Engage key decision makers, then hit the accelerator, says cultural transformation expert
17 March 2009 8:48am
A successful and enduring organisational change management strategy hinges on identifying, targeting and engaging "key decision makers" - and then "keeping your foot on the accelerator", according to the capability-and-culture GM of Transfield Services' global HR group, Joan Lynch.
"Try and engage [leaders] and then give them a kick across the line," says Lynch, who spoke at the Tonkin Organisational Change Management conference in Sydney yesterday.
"Say to them: try it and you might like it... Lobby hard. Never give up."
According to Lynch, the need for a systematic change management strategy came to the fore at Transfield after acquisitions, global expansion and major restructuring saw its personnel numbers leap from 9,000 in 2005 to 29,000 last year.
In that time, the organisation "has been redesigned more times than you can count on two hands", she says. "We're constantly implementing new systems and infrastructure."
HR faced a host of new concerns, Lynch says. Rapid growth meant that many departments and subsidiaries were time-poor and resource-tight. The post-2005 skills shortage saw people "tossed into roles before they were ready" for them, and technical leaders thrown into people-management roles.
Global expansion gave rise to a number of cross-cultural issues, including language barriers, conflicting institutional or business styles and differing IR systems, and synergy was inhibited by "task-focused, pragmatic" policies.
Still, convincing senior management to advocate and fund a change management strategy wasn't easy, Lynch says.
They perceived change management as a short-term matter, and engaged external consultants for brief tenures to address specific issues.
The shift, she says, came about by identifying and targeting "key decision makers", and then engaging them by:
conducting leadership workshops, including short awareness sessions where a "vivid picture" of the company's future was outlined; and
marketing to the organisation, whether through innovation; documenting and "slotting" case studies into proposals; or by demonstrating the alignment of HR strategies with business objectives.
Transfield, Lynch says, subsequently developed a change management strategy centred on:
a common language - many transformation conflicts, she says, come down to a misunderstanding about the words used;
engagement - involving employees from all levels of the business structure; and identifying and "leveraging off shared cultural norms" and ways of working;
feedback - whether face-to-face or written; and formal and informal;
leadership competencies - which are "very stringently" measured; and
reward and recognition - recognising positive change behaviours and rewarding workers accordingly.
Seven organisational-change lessons
Also speaking at the conference, Stephen Woolley of PricewaterhouseCoopers, outlined "seven lessons learnt" from successful, large change programs, based on interviews with 40 CEOs and senior executives from ASX-listed companies.
According to the research, Woolley says, successful transformation hinges on:
Agility and a shared understanding of current and predicted drivers. Cultural change is currently seen as the most crucial driver, Woolley says. In the recent past it was technological change. Future drivers could include environmental issues, such as carbon footprints.
CEO flexibility and leadership style, including the CEO's ability to create and sell a vision to his or her people. However, the success of transformation still relies heavily on the broader management team. "The real challenge is breaking through the crust of middle-management," Woolley says.
Customer-centric strategies. "The customer should remain central at all points in the transformation process."
Effective communication, including early and ongoing stakeholder planning management. Companies should avoid "under-scoping" stakeholders. There should be a communication plan for each individual stakeholder group or potential stakeholder.
Making culture change stick, through top-down and bottom-up strategies aimed at all employees.
Clear metrics, to achieve a transformation vision. For cultural change to succeed there must be "hard financial metrics behind it".
Continuing with business as usual, and allocating the resources to achieve this.
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