Monday, April 11, 2011

When is a change not a change?

This is not a trick question. Many of us have undergone change programmes over the years and many have not worked or had no effect. Why is this? The answer is quite simple, the initiatives have not been Change programmes, they have mostly been renaming exercises. The phrase ‘rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic’ springs to mind here and it is most unfortunate that such exercises have largely been carried out in the public sector in the UK since the economic downturn began to bite.

So what has actually been happening, particularly in our councils and Civil Service? Luckily for employees, the public sector currently has a policy of no compulsory redundancies, which means that only costs other than labour can be cut which in turn leads to the desire for greater efficiency. The desire for greater efficiency then leads to the reorganisation of people. Structures, responsibilities and titles change but job descriptions, behaviours and attitudes do not.

Why does this matter if the organisation has not had to shed employees other than through voluntary schemes, after all efficiency has been addressed and costs cut! Let us go back to the reasons for change, to alter the way in which the organization works (effectively and efficiency) and ensure that it is fit to face the future. To do this we have:

  • Shed staff, often indiscriminately
  • Adopted best practice from external sources
  • Changed the organisational structure chart
  • Amended job titles
What we have also done is:

  • Lost valuable knowledge and experience
  • Failed to communicate the reasons for change and expectations
  • Addressed any necessary changes in behavior
  • Failed to address insecurities regarding the future
We are likely to end up with an organisation that wants to work as it has always done (but when it has let valuable employees go) but which its masters want to go in a different direction. Think of a train running on tracks with the Chief Executive running alongside shouting ‘no, over here. Go this way’. Many will say that this is all that can be achieved in the current climate in a short space of time. My point is that the work should have been carried out properly over a longer period of time if those in power had the skill and foresight to begin the changes a couple of years ago.

This all sound very negative but is easily sorted by:

  • Ensuring a transfer of knowledge when staff leave
  • Employing change agents within the organisation to help with real change
  • Engage the employees at the ‘coalface’ – in a hierarchical organisation you could be ignoring 80% of the workforce
  • Focus on required behaviours rather than simply changing job titles
  • Encourage transparency wherever possible

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