View of a city through a keyhole


Left to our own devices, we tend to build from the familiar and are resistant to change. 

This is particularly evident when organisations merge. 

The larger or more powerful organisation usually expects to take precedence and to impose its way of doing things either because:

  • It considers the familiar arrangements to be the best or
  • The cost of changing them would be too great. 

Such an approach can create huge resentment and misses the opportunity to consider whether current arrangements are ‘fit for purpose’. 

This has been borne out whenever Kennedy has worked with organisations that have to make significant change to be ‘fit for purpose’.

The imperative for change could indeed be the consequence of a merger, a shift in Government policy or regulation, in market supply, demand or a significant change in the available technology.

Whatever the stimulus, if the organisation simply responds with incremental changes, it is unlikely to address the fundamental reasons for being disadvantaged.

Being prepared to return to the blank sheet of paper is more likely to create an outcome that will enable the organisation to accommodate fluctuating demands much more easily. 

Change is not simply about structure. It is about working practices, processes, and how people behave.

Structure can only achieve so much!

Unless it promotes different behaviours and working practices, it is unlikely to bring about a sustainable change. 

Few take the opportunity to start with a blank sheet of paper, but when they do, they can create a new culture and entity to which everyone can relate. 

Being prepared to involve staff from the merging organisations to really think about the requirements of the future enables both organisations to identify what is critical and to jettison the aspects of work that do not add value. 

This is equally true when an organisation has a need to change and is prepared to involve staff in the process of designing the future. 

#1 Who, what, when & why: recognising the value of change 

Businesses know that no market is totally stable and that competitive edge can only be maintained by having the agility to respond to a continually changing environment.  

Paradoxically this means having a relatively structured and stable environment in which to operate.  

Otherwise, the consequence can be a succession of responses to perceived changes which have little to do with the longer-term positioning and strategy for the company. 

To create such an environment requires senior management to really think through what is needed to be fit for purpose and to have the appropriate behaviours and processes to support continuous improvement. 

#2 Change from the top 

Clear and consistent leadership is essential for any organisation but is particularly necessary whenever there is an uncertain future. 

The confidence of staff increases when they see that senior management is proactive in shaping the future and diminishes whenever they feel that the company is ‘on the back foot’. 

Whatever the reality, it is the perception of senior management behaviour and impact that will determine the response of staff. 

Staff look for clear, consistent and realistic decisions to shape the work they do. 

Employees will judge the effectiveness of their bosses on the effectiveness with which changes are launched and managed. 

When staff say that decisions are taken without the longer-term impact and consequences being thought through, the contradiction of senior managers does not change the perception. 

This can only be achieved by staff seeing and experiencing decisions that are clear and consistent and which bring longer-term benefit.

While talking the decision up can help, direct experience will determine the response, not the formal communications. 

Management has the task of subsequently setting priorities, resolving conflicting demands, motivating staff and delivering the outcomes required. 

It has the responsibility for creating an environment in which it is possible for staff to meet the demands placed on the business unit. 

However, it does not have the responsibility for all good ideas. 

Knowing how the business can be improved is not the preserve of any one individual or of those who have reached a position of authority. 

#3 Deciding who can really add value 

In any politically sensitive industry, there will be a major requirement to engage stakeholders covering an extensive set of interests. 

Here too, it is helpful to go back to a blank sheet of paper.

We tend to work with the contacts we know and trust and spend more time with those we relate to more easily.

It is always worth involving people who can do an independent assessment to review the map of stakeholders, to identify the alliances and to challenge the influencing strategy.

This helps to lead to a reassessment of the strategy and its implementation. 

Typically, the influencing is extended beyond the immediate group of senior people, the messages become sharper, and the effort is managed more effectively. 

#4 Involving all 

Business improvements need the involvement of those who will have to implement them. 

If an organisation wants to know what prevents it being efficient and effective, staff can provide invaluable insight. 

They see the:

  •  Consequences of decisions
  • Inconsistency of decisions
  • Missed opportunities. 

In the right environment, they can highlight what works well and adds value, what does not work well and to identify the changes that would bring about significant benefit. 

They will not always understand the context in which decisions were taken, but they can see the impact of those decisions that affect how the company operates. 

Whenever an organisation has cause to reassess the way it operates, it is advisable to involve staff in the diagnostic phase required to understand the real problem and potential solution. 

This acts as the reality check, but it also ensures that staff feel their experience has helped to shape the future. 

As a consequence, they are more likely to ‘own’ the outcome of the review and feel motivated to adopt the changes required.

This is the case even if the changes required are not the desired outcome from individuals’ own perspective. 

The tradition of the Quality Circle, and the philosophy of Continuous Improvement or The Learning Organisation, have certainly been embraced by many. 

But it is worth asking the question, ‘have they become ritualistic or remained central to the business?’.

It is hugely frustrating when such initiatives are launched and gradually lose momentum. 

When they remain central to the business, involve the relevant people, and continue to have the support of senior decision-makers, they can maintain a competitive edge in their market. 

When attention moves on to the next initiative, and senior decision-makers stop seeing the initiative as central to their business, the momentum is lost. 

#5 Embedding the strategy 

Embedding decisions and changed practices into the organisation is essential if they are to achieve maximum benefit.

This means working with, and through, staff at all levels in the organisation.

It also involves maintaining effective two-way communications to ensure that the working practices consistently achieve the intended improvements and impact.

This requires an open and transparent style of leadership which engages in active and productive dialogue at all levels of the organisation.

For some, this is a fundamental change of culture.

Staff typically communicate with their immediate line managers and those who report to them.

If a communication is to be received throughout the organisation, it is essential that all the links in the hierarchy are effective.

If any layer in the communication chain is inconsistent, the message will be distorted and as a consequence, not have the desired impact.

It is also the case that stakeholders external to the company will respond to personal communications, rather than an impersonal communications campaign.

If the message has not been effectively embedded, staff will simply convey a partial message, or one that is distorted, which can undermine the confidence of key stakeholders. 

Another aspect of embedding a change is simply the repetition required for people to hear the message. 

The formal campaign to launch a change will state and reinforce the intended message. 

However, people need to hear a message repeated continuously and to see it in action, before it becomes integral to them. 

Often it is assumed that the formal notification has conveyed the message. 

Seeing the impact of the message will quickly identify if the message had indeed been effectively embedded. 

A multi-site organisation and Kennedy client, seeking to establish a core culture, involved staff from around the group to develop the essential processes and procedures. 

The company could not understand why changes, which had been designed by people from across the business, were not actively adopted by all group members. 

The reality was that the changes were being managed piecemeal and were not viewed as part of a clear strategy. 

Nor were the various changes owned by managers from around the group so that they accepted responsibility for embedding them. 

Having failed to gain the anticipated benefits of the various changes, senior management did not reinforce the need for the changes.

Nor did they provide staff with the appropriate support for the change to be adopted effectively. 

#6 Managing specialists 

Fundamental change was handled quite differently in a second client company where the business was dependent on specialist knowledge.

A new operating division was created by bringing four hi-tec groups together.

The rivalry between them was considerable, and they could not see the need to change.

The future of the business, however, was dependent on creating a much more customer-responsive service, and this meant creating a genuinely integrated organisation.

By working closely with the staff, it proved possible to develop a genuinely integrated organisation which could build on the skills of a multi-disciplinary group.

Without a preparedness to start with a blank sheet of paper and the refusal to buy into the vested interests of the specialist groups, it would not have been possible to change.

While senior management knew what the business had to achieve, it did not impose any preconceptions on how this was done.

Staff at all levels were involved in designing the business’ future, and in establishing the processes and behaviours required to deliver a much more effective service.

The challenge ahead 

The quest for staying ahead of the competition will be dependent on making the innovative ways of doing business absolutely integral to the day-to-day work of staff.

Companies fail to capitalise on their improved processes and procedures if their implementation is not good enough.

Simply announcing the change will not guarantee its adoption.

Staff need to know that the change is genuine and not a passing whim, that the change is realistic, practical, beneficial, and that it will be adequately supported as it is introduced.

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