Achieving lasting and positive change

Derek Stockley is a training and performance management consultant based in Melbourne, Australia. (Google+).

In this, the final of three articles, Derek Stockley emphasises approaches necessary to achieve positive and sustainable change. Previous articles covered the importance of people and the need to consider all actions under the umbrella of performance.

Although we may be tired of hearing about change, it is still a very powerful organisational reality, particularly as we continue to seek higher levels of customer service. Although many have experienced change, few can honestly claim that they have participated in a perfect, or near perfect, change implementation.

The change approach taken is often the reason for this lack of success. In my first article (first article in this series), I argued that the first step to a sound organisation is to keep all programs and initiatives aligned to a framework of increased performance.

Often initiatives such as total quality management, benchmarking and reengineering are regarded as separate programs. If these or other programs are treated as the ends rather than the means, then the overall focus on improved performance may be lost. In these circumstances, the programs you initiate to improve management and co-ordination end up managing you.

Many people talk about the successful implementation of staff development schemes or performance management processes. Implementing new paperwork is not success, until the associated processes lead to results. Increased understanding with staff; better relationships; better targeted training; and the like; lead to improved individual, team and organisational performance. If this happens, then success can be rightly claimed.

The focus on programs rather than outcomes often leads to the misunderstandings described in the previous article (second article in this series). Participation and involvement is a key to achieving success in programs. People have to see how their actions relate to the bigger picture, particularly when coping with the changes being imposed from outside local government. Those forces have to be assessed and managed.

Every organisation has the opportunity to learn from the experience of other enterprises in Australia and overseas. We need to avoid problems, and do things correctly. The previous article mentioned the emergence of research stating that restructuring and downsizing exercises overseas had failed to achieve long term gains. Have you considered what this means for your plans to restructure or downsize?

We have to be careful how we use fashionable techniques. I remember reacting with some concern when I heard a senior Australian banker talking about benchmarking. He stated that compared to overseas banks, Australia had too many bank branches per thousand customers. Benchmarking is a wonderful tool, but you have to use it in the correct way. Given Australia's population spread, a better benchmark would have been access to banking. Ease of access is critical to good service. You cannot consider aspects of service in isolation. The big banks closed many branches without ensuring the access points were in place. They still suffer fom the bad will they created, even though they have now created the access points (internet, ATM's, electronic funds transfer).

We have the opportunity to learn from other experiences.

Many leading organisations are moving away from the 'us and them' contract model. Instead, they are forming strategic relationships or partnerships on the basis of what is good for one helps the other. 'Us and them' is becoming 'we'. In a spirit of teamwork and cooperation, these organisations are constantly searching for better ways. Outsourcing arrangements will only succeed if they are based on mutual respect and trust, and not on the the strict legal interpretation of the "contract".

Changes forced upon organisations are inevitable. However, the nature and structure of the response can be controlled, particularly if sight of the bigger picture is not lost. Change can be managed, providing that there is a sound framework.

I have argued that the framework should be improved performance in all aspects of the organisation's operation. Any program or activity must have a place. Each should complement and build upon others. The focus should constantly be on the end result. The means should simply be the way of getting there.

Within this framework, I have found the following to be critical to successful change implementation:

Recognise that you have to have realistic goals and objectives for the change AND for the change process. For example, if you are introducing a new information technology (IT) system, then your expected outcomes and benefits from that system should be clearly stated and pursued. In addition, you should have clear goals and targets for the steps involved in introducing the system. For example, active involvement and participation in the development process by end users will be a goal that increases the chance of successful change. As another benefit, the final IT system is likely to be better too.

Successful change programs 'piggy back' on existing systems. As soon as possible, they are integrated into existing activities and methods. For example, the allocation of accounting codes and funds in the budget make it much easier to start and keep the program going (it does not get lost in accounting and funding problems).

Successful change programs are open/participative/involving/rewarding. They let people know what is happening. They use the contributions of the people affected. They include reward systems that encourage involvement.

Successful change programs recognise that organisational politics exists. This means seeking key support and using the existing power structure. It also includes consideration of the timing of actions.

Successful change programs are adaptable and flexible - adjusting to new information and situations as appropriate.

Successful change programs involve steps - where the initial successes can be built upon.

Successful change programs are staffed with the people who can do the job, and who receive top level support.

Successful change can be achieved. Improved individual, team and organisational performance can be achieved. External forces can be dealt with in a positive way.

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Other resources

See also: Implementing business systems successfully, which covers specific issues related to the introduction of new technology, particularly computer and information technology.

Change management is one aspect of the performance human resources consulting service provided by Derek Stockley, see: Human Resources Consulting Services.

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