Many companies have come to understand that the key to competitive success is to transform the way they function. The starting point of any change effort in an organisation is to determine the problems of the business. Typically change management programs are implemented to address these issues. They focus on reviewing a company’s purpose and culture and usually, change is pushed down the organisations and can include; a new organisational structure, a performance appraisal system, a pay-for-performance compensation plan, training programs to turn managers into change agents and quarterly attitude surveys to chart the progress of the change effort.
However, this textbook structure in organisational transformation often results in no actual changes in organisational behaviour. In fact, results have shown that 70% of large-scale change programs didn’t meet their goals. The assumption is that disseminating companywide programs— “corporate culture” programs, mission statements, quality circles, training courses, and new pay-for-performance systems—will change employee behaviour and transform organisations; that human behaviour is changed by altering a company’s formal structure and systems. However, this is not the case.
The problem lies in beliefs about who is responsible for initiating change and how change is implemented. Harvard Business Review conducted a four-year study of organisational change by following six large corporations through their attempt in implementing a change program.
Here’s what they found: successful change efforts were ad hoc and focused on the work itself, not on concepts like “involvement” or “culture.” Change was successful when it targeted a change in behaviour, as opposed to the top-down approach which targets attitudes, in the hope of changing behaviour.
Basically, change is about learning and changing behaviour and there is no better way to learn than in practice. Often change management initiatives that are implemented top-down are so generalised that they don’t transfer to the day-to-day realities of some parts of the business. A statement about a cultural change doesn’t necessarily mean that the people within the organisation know how to function to improve this. It is rare for executive teams to know the fine-grained details of change required in the many diverse units of a large corporation. Hence, what was found here is that change is more effective when started from the smaller parts of a business and worked upwards.
However, internal activism and success with change within small parts of a business don’t easily scale upwards. Additionally they don’t address the processes, management systems and cultural norms that control how large organisations operate. Perhaps what is needed for effective change management is a combination of both these methods with involvement from all levels of an organisation.
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