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The Times They Are A-Changin’

By: Will Herman, Account Director & Manufacturing Sector Lead


With AI continuing to dominate headlines – there is no evidence it can be controlled (The

Independent), but it can tell you what the best pancake toppings are (Mail Online) – change

is something we’re all grappling with more than ever. It’s a demanding and tiring challenge

for decision makers in every industry, from manufacturing to aviation. Meanwhile, January

has come and gone already and many of us are ready for a break.


Meeting with friends over the weekend for a day’s running on the Lakeland fells, I was

reminded, as if any reminder was needed, of the inexorable march of time. It was the first

meet since Christmas and the banter was quickly in full flow.


“You need a haircut youth.” This was a friend, several years my senior, whose business had

recently been through a complex restructuring programme and whose high-pressure job

had, I thought, left him looking decidedly more in need of a makeover than me. He warmed

to his theme: “I’ve never seen you looking more like a herdwick.” (A breed of sheep

synonymous with the Lake District.)


There may, I admit, have been some truth in this. Certainly, the grey hairs are more numerous than they were. It wasn’t always so of course. I

was once, bright eyed and blonde – but as my mother liked to tell me back in those dim and

distant days: “All things change.”


Being well read and highly articulate, paraphrasing Greek philosophers (Heraclitus) came

naturally to her. Clearly, I was not overly impressed for my knowledge of Greek philosophy

remains scant. But she was right of course. And while the quote is among the greatest of

cliches, it seems many still respond no more effectively to such teaching. The Romans tried

restructuring on at least a few occasions – look what happened to them – but we keep doing

it and making many of the same mistakes.


"If you always do what you’ve always done”, a colleague of mine used to say, “you’ll always

get what you always got.” She wasn’t a Greek philosopher (or a Roman), but she was a

highly qualified HR professional. (That’s Human Resources, not the Happiness Reduction

department.)


Here’s what she had to say on the subject: "Someone once likened bringing about change in business to boiling a frog: there are two ways to do it. The first is to drop the frog into a pan of cold water and turn the heat up very slowly until the frog falls asleep and before he knows it, he’s been boiled. It takes a long time, but he doesn’t notice it too much. Or throw the frog into a pan of boiling water: it’s painful but at least it’s over quickly!"


So how do bring about change in the workplace without it being too painful or taking too

long?


The method involves three steps: first, examine the benefits, then communicate and drive

the change through and finally, embed the change, monitor and review success. In practice, this means:


Decide if the change will bring enough benefits


This stage needs some analysis. Recognise that there will be some resistance so examine

both the benefits and the barriers to success using a methodology such as Kurt Lewin’s

force-field analysis.


This will help you evaluate the potential rewards and establish how tough the change will be

to effect. Consider all aspects of the business that might be affected from strategy, to

systems to the skillset and number of staff. If this stage shows the barriers outweigh the

benefits then challenge the need for change.


Communicate and drive the change through


Communication sounds easy but if there’s one thing people complain about, it’s not being

told enough. You can never over-communicate!


Create a team to initiate and communicate the change, find people who will benefit from the

change and using the information gathered in step one, bring them on-board and ensure

they will be ambassadors for the change. This is the time to sell the benefits and create a

groundswell for change.


Using this ‘change team’ create a plan of action which includes:

  • Steps for the change: What is the right order for activities? Will it happen in one area first? What are the deadlines and milestones?

  • Responsibilities: who will do what, when and where? What does success look like? When and how will the team communicate with each other?

  • Channels through which communication will be driven: from briefings, notices, posters, newsletters, meetings and training sessions. Agree the form of words and clear messages to be used. Ensure that those affected directly have clear information and support from line management.”


Embed the change, monitor and review success


As progress is being made, ensure that success is publicised. Quick wins should be

celebrated throughout the organisation. Ensure the barriers to success identified in stage

one are reviewed and have been overcome.


When things go wrong, review and take corrective actions. Continually review and reward

success. And keep communicating, reinforcing the change where possible until the change

becomes the norm.


So, there you have it. Follow those steps and the rest will follow. As for my friend? Well, the restructure has proved successful after all. And all good things come to those who wait – I had my revenge later that day when he took his second tumble of the day on a steep descent. “Falling down is not a failure,” I explained happily. (Socrates).


Perhaps I had remembered something after all.

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