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Blog Post

Working through Change Management

By Ian Conolly, Senior Client Engagement Leader

In 2008, Zimbabwe was in hyperinflation estimated at nearly 80 billion percent month-on-month. To put it simply, this means that almost every day prices would double. There were acute shortages of basic goods and the banking system could not sustain the cash requirement.  

At the time, I was part of the leadership team steering our familyowned manufacturing business through the change. People’s salaries had halved in value by the time they reached their bank accountsAs a family we provided weekly food for our employees and their families. Change was a guaranteed part of everyday life.  

Change can be chosen or forced on us. Globally, we are experiencing forced change in the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether chosen or forced, we are guaranteed that “the only thing constant in life is change” (Heraclitus).  

It is limiting to simplify change management to something we only do during significant projects. Leaders continually ask for change, whether it is to shift priorities, sell a different product, redesign a document, or give feedback on restricting behaviour. The greatest change management strategy is building a change-ready culture. 

According to McKinsey, 70% of all transformations fail and the primary reason for failure is the people and cultural aspect. This begs the question: How do we create cultures that are ready for constant change and innovation? What types of cultures adapt and innovate the fastest? 

Drawing from my own experience in facing extreme change, as well as from Google’s Project Aristotle, writings from Forbes, Accenture, Harvard Business Review, and our learnings at Chapman & Co., and our parent company, Barry-Wehmiller, cultures managing change well include the following 5 attributes: 

1. Care

Every one of your team members is important and worthy of care. Every one of them is instrumental in the future of your business, and your business should be instrumental in their lives. (Bob Chapman in Everybody Matters). 

Foundational to our work is the concept that the most important thing leaders do is care for their peopleNot just for their function or productivity, but for who they are as human beings. People contribute positively when we authentically care for them. 
 
Leading in Zimbabwe, the people we cared for during hyperinflation continued to be significant contributors for years afterwards, simply because we cared for them and their loved ones during a time of great need. To be clear, we didn’t do this to increase productivity. We did this because as leaders, it was the right thing to do. 

2. Safety

Safety can be defined as both physical and emotional, and the second can be often forgotten. Emotional safety is crucial. It enables us to be real about our struggles, to contribute a new idea, to be wrong, or to learn through failure. Create safety for your team and they will contribute their best collective thinking resulting in outstanding innovation

My daughter was battling to come up with ideas for a new skill to learn during the COVID-19 shutdown. We agreed that 6 brains are better than 2 (I have 4 children). So that evening the 6 of us brainstormed and the ideas that resulted were abundant. When surrounded by people she trusts, she was able to formulate ideas better and think more clearly. Psychological safety is the foundation of Project Aristotle, Google’s findings on how to harness the power of their teams. Focus on harnessing it in your team. 

3. Equality and Inclusion

A significant part of safety is knowing that I will be treated as an equal. Accenture experience highlights that culture of equality is a powerful multiplier of innovation and growth.” Being treated as inferior by another person or not feeling included in a team are fast ways to kill our desire and ability to contribute. When we believe our contribution does not matter it shuts down our creativity; have a look at our webinar on inclusion for more insights.

4. Feedback

You know that feeling when you get a call from your leader asking you to meet as they’ve got some feedback for you? It typically creates fear and possibly a little anxiety. When fear or anxiety is present, our creative edge is lost. We begin to second guess and analyse instead of simply create. Yet feedback is vital and sought after. We want to know how we are doing, that we are on the right track and our work matters. So how do you give feedback that doesn’t induce fear? Make sure you know how to deliver, and ask for, feedback that creates change. Adaption to change is rapid in an environment where feedback is part of everyday.

5. Learning

When we know we are cared for, safe, treated as an equal, included and get great feedback, our minds are more open. Our capacity to learn is greater and our desire to share learning increases. The result is rapid growth. Our knowledge is less important than our ability and willingness to learn. After all, innovation requires constant learning. Creating a culture of learning sets organisations up to adapt, innovate, and become market leaders.

Based on research of others and from my own experience, I know this to be true: that the greatest change management strategy is building a change-ready culture. It is not only good for business; it is good for our people. The wellbeing of our people and their families is at stake. As leaders it is not only our responsibility, but also our privilege to create businesses that are equipped to adapt rapidly enough to thrive through everyday uncertainty. 

Leaders should view change not as an occasional disruptor but as the very essence of the management job.” (Schaffer, Robert. “All Management is Change Management”). Never was the role of leaders in building a change-ready cultures more important. 

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