You might have noticed that change management seems to be coming into its own at the moment; there are talks, articles and books on the subject popping up all over the place. The only problem is that many of these suggest that change management is just some subspeciality of management; something that is rather different to “managing” and not really a part of it. This seems a little strange; after all if you think about it is not all management simply the management of change?
What is change management?
Is it change management if you need to increase your sales, if you need to implement a merger or, if you have a new personnel policy to bring in? Well, yes it is. What about reducing your costs, improving your productivity of even developing a new product? Yes, that’s right, as any change management expert will tell you, this is also change management.
It is the role of management to make clear what changes must be made and also to ensure that these changes occur. There can still be change goals even when the overall idea is to work towards stability, whether this means cutting costs, reducing variability, or reducing timeframes and turnover. There are always continuing improvements that can be made to the routines that an organisation uses, once every job within that organisation has been clearly defined with regards to any changes that need to be made. Not only this, but every innovation that takes place can be seen as a lesson to help inform operations for the future and in this way an organisation becomes a smoother running machine; continually changing and adapting. Change is a part of life; it needs something to drive it.
The change management movement that is around now has occurred as a response to the difficulties that companies were experiencing as a result of continually needing to make constant and prompt improvements to those aspects of work that should be considered routine. Looking for ways to overcome this has brought about a split in organisational life with change management times on one side and ordinary times on the other. As more and more people look to understand the role of change management in a professional capacity, with an emphasis on change management certification, rather than making improvements and innovations to the routine then it will appear as though change is in fact something special. Unfortunately, this means that managers will take the view that change is out of the ordinary and special skills and change management techniques need to be adopted and this, in turn, makes it all too easy for people to be unwilling for change to take place.
Changing the way you think about change
The real thing that needs to change is the way that people think. Leaders need to think of change not just as something that happens on occasion but rather as something that is at the core of any management job. The idea of establishing processes in order to reach any tough goals that have been set, undertaking these processes and then learning carefully from them – these should all become part of the day to day life in any organisation and at every level. If there were more companies who got used to the idea of describing the work that they wanted to do in terms of what might happen over the course of the next month, the next quarter, or even the full year, then this type of change would be something that people were less afraid of.
The big question, of course, is just how do you make this transition? And the answer is in fact a relatively simple one. It is simply a case of skipping the time that is spent making a complete plan that will change the company to one that is more change orientated. Focus instead on the important goals that you have not yet managed to achieve. Teams should create sub-goals; the type of things that they could attempt to complete in just a couple of months. They could also try testing steps that are innovative and that they believe will make a difference in order to learn from the process. If all of this is carried out over a shorter period of time, then there should be ample time to test a number of different things. There are, of course, some steps that you can take to improve more significant tactical goals, but it is more important to concentrate on completing targeted changes. Once each success has been achieved a new wave of goals with a more ambitious objective can be considered.
Take as an example one president of an insurance company based in North America. In order to get his division on the right path he devised some significant strategic goals. He followed this with a number of short-term projects that were designed to seek results. Each one of these was planned out carefully with the end goal of making individuals experiment with the idea of innovation. Learning from the ideas that they tested, they were able to incorporate them into the workplace.
On average around 50 such projects are carried out every year, each with different goals. These projects are not small, and neither are the goals that they have., However because the president employs a strategy that is rather project-centric, these projects have increased the company’s revenue by a significant amount.
The most important takeaway from this example is that managers need to be held accountable for continually making improvements. Because the operating managers were given the responsibility, they in fact created their own capacity to drive continual changes whilst their teams created the capacity to apply them. There is always the possibility that specialist experts can be called on for support. However, the real management changes need to remain firmly under the control of the managers. What this does really show is that management and change management are really one and the same thing.