23 March 2006

Managing change

One of the assignments I will be involved in later this year is a change project. The idea is to run a pilot programme to test whether the ideas that the steering group has had actually hold up in the real world.

Change projects are often identified with technology, but change can reflect any changes in the 'way we do things around here'. Change projects are awkward - people often resist change, particularly if the current situation is comfortable. Many of the models which are used in describing how people resist change (anger, denial, acceptance and so on) are drawn from surveys of bereavement. When people ask for a tangible example then trainers often draw analogies from redundancy or divorce. It is little wonder that change has an aura of risk associated with it.

The key in introducing change in an organisation is to try to involve people as much as possible so that they feel some ownership of the result. That bottom-up approach though, has to be carefully managed so that it can produce clear recommendations. A bottom-up approach which fails to produce recommendations is simply a consultation phase.

The reason that I tend to favour bottom-up rather than top-down is that although it is frequently slower than a centralised process, the solutions it recommends will be based on a better understanding of local situations and tensions than any top-down process could consistently deliver.

These kinds of projects can create all kinds of fears:
  • a waste of time, individual opinions will be ignored
  • large numbers will remain silent and feel left out
  • key areas will be ignored because of the necessity of producing recommendations within a fixed time-frame
  • people won't understand what is going on because there won't be enough communication
  • knowledge within the organisation won't be accessed and used properly within the pilot
These may all be valid criticisms. It is one of the key tasks of the pilot project to carefully set people's expectations so that there are no surprises at any stage.

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