Change should be bottom up AND top down

Change can be a difficult process to navigate, but it is essential for organisations in order to grow and adapt.  As Sustainability Consultant I help organisations adopt new ways of working that protect resources, be that energy, materials, space or people.

The easiest part is identifying issues, drawing up strategy and agreeing the desired outcomes.   This is generally drawn up in association with senior management or owners, but ideally there should be representatives from all levels from the outset.

The difficult part is the implementation, adopting and embedding new systems and processes.  All too often, I come across organisations who make decisions without providing the necessary support, information or guidance.  Invariably, the new initiatives aren’t adopted and are often actively resisted, leading to management deciding that the initiatives were at fault instead of the implementation.

 A team approach to change

My approach is very different.  When introducing new ways of working, I engage in conversation first, get everyone, whether they are directly involved or not, talking about the problem and seeing what suggestions result.  Often the people best able to resolve problems are those who are working with them all the time, and those are rarely the people at the top of an organisation. This stage shouldn’t take too long, as delaying action leads to a feeling that nothing will be done and this is just an exercise to keep the team happy.

The next bit is to discuss the findings with the decision makers, owners, CEO’s, managers, team leaders and representatives.  It’s vital to keep those who will be doing the implementation  involved at this stage so they feel they have some influence and control over their work.

It may be that the decision makers decide to further investigate a couple of options, and for this I suggest a small team who can be agile, work up proposals quickly and report back.  Again, it is important to keep this stage short, whilst allowing for adequate time for research and testing.  If it takes too long then the situation may have changed meaning the solution is irrelevant, and the team will have lost motivation.

Once a final decision is made, keep everyone fully briefed on what’s happening and why, remind them why process has been undertaken and what part everyone plays –  whether that’s implementation or monitoring the impact elsewhere in the organisation.  It’s essential to keep everyone on board at this stage – many people dislike change and will go out of their way to prevent it, so you will need as lots of support to make it happen.

Ideally, for the first few weeks of the new processes, have one or two key members of staff released from other duties to manage the new systems.  However carefully you plan new initiatives, there will be problems and if there’s someone available to take charge and work out how to resolve them, then the whole team will feel fully supported.

Throughout implementation, a good system of monitoring and feeding back to the decision makers is essential.

Change in practice

To demonstrate this, I have two examples I have recently been involved with.  Both relate to organisations adopting the same process of recording customer information to release staff from acting as data gatherers.

How not to do it

Organisation A decided they were able to handle implementation and rollout in house.  They didn’t consult with the team involved, gave them access to the new system only days prior to the go-live date and didn’t allow for extra personnel during the roll-out phase.

When I visited about three weeks after implementation, the team working with the new system were finding every excuse not to use it, noting that it wasn’t helping them carry out their work and didn’t like it.  The management weren’t seeing the results they expected – increased customer flow, improved experience and freeing staff to focus on dealing with customer demand.

The situation was resolved, but only with a great deal of work restarting the implementation, spending time with the staff using it, explaining how it worked and what the benefits for staff and customers would be.  It took time and effort to turn the situation around but eventually, the management were able to achieve the anticipated results.

How it should be done

Organisation B included their team in the discussion and decision-making process right from the word go.  The whole team, including representatives from teams working alongside, received thorough training prior to the go-live date and were well supported over the first few weeks until the process was thoroughly embedded.  A senior member of the team was released from other duties for the first 3 weeks to provide support and address any issues arising.  Communications were clear and frequent throughout.

It was clear within the first few weeks that the implementation had gone smoothly, that the staff and customers involved were happy with the new process and that management were seeing better than expected results.

Change is a necessary part of continued success and growth, but it must be carefully managed and fully supported for maximum effectiveness.  Involve as many people as you can, communicate effectively and provide on hand support until the new processes are fully embedded.  A little careful planning in advance and the outcomes could be better than anticipated.

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