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Engagement is Key to Change

Patricia Inez Meiring & Sean Kelly

Engagement is key through the process to advance understanding of change, and how to innovate around it.

Change can often be led through top-down management only. This is where a lot of opportunity is hampered by not including bottom-up approaches.

Communication can get dissolved further in your organisation as change occurs. Sometimes the content of communication becomes more about ‘telling’ or ‘sharing’ rather than engaging (on principles and capability to meet change), and so your employees may not make that shift in mindset that change brings. 

This is a costly challenge for business as the operational elements are where most of your cost and resources are used. Without engagement with this part of your business, a lot of money and resource can be spent by employees who feel disengaged and confused, and aren’t sure how to operationalise the new strategy.

Information Flow Process and Cost (unpublished resources shared by Kelly Resources

We often hope that change will be met in every area of the business.

How We Think Change Works

What happens in practice is a shift in the minds and strategic documents at the ‘top’ of the organisation that does not translate into the rest of the organisation. 

Actual Employee Engagement (unpublished resources shared by Kelly Resources

A lack of communication can result in a delay and ambiguity further inside the business. Along with an anticipated change expected by leaders, employees can experience a lack of engagement, and a tension in their psychological contract if the change is not visible, or means demands are placed on them without fully understanding what is happening or why.

For a proper appreciation of change in the structures, processes and governance in the business, this takes time, alternative hypothesis, testing and feedback. Change is not only about drafting new documents, but has a psychological element that needs to be understood and engaged with.

Change efforts need to allow individuals to explore, personalise and accept change wherever they may be. Failed change efforts leave people with resentment, cynicism and disengagement without an opportunity for exploration.

Emotional cycles of change (unpublished resources shared by Kelly Resources

Question: If you were to ask employees in your organisation if they understand the vision, direction and goals of the organisation would they be able to answer you? Are they personal aligned with it?

More diverse organisations may require different things in change.

As your organisation becomes global, cultural preferences will be more dominant with a mix of organisational structure and varying ways of working. If you’re planning on integrating or creating a new organisation you might need to have a greater understanding of the target market, their preferences, and the preferences of a diverse workforce.

An understanding of the business and the diversity of views is explained in Scheins Organisational Culture diagram. There are observable behaviours and assumptions about the business and the way it works, however the whole picture becomes more available when we examine what internal values and assumptions people bring to the table. For different people in the same national culture, these can vary widely. Dealing with more diversity of national culture can enable a far-wider understanding of what will work in the business and how HR systems and governance should be tailored.

Schein E. Model of Organisational Culture

Consider process variability for ways of working. For instance, are HR processes dogmatic about their approach to competency, talent and team development, or are they revised and developed in the business to help with digital technology and process innovation? Do rewards follow a set structure or given ad-hoc? Do people in the organisation want to be rewarded in this way? National cultural differences mean some cultures like certificates and public mention, whereas others don’t. A huge amount of idea generation is good, innovation, and striking a balance between ways to standardise and ways to allow for variability for those that desire it. Your processes may grow or become more sophisticated; and this is often where innovation lives.

As you develop change, the process becomes about raising skill capability to meet change so that at every level individuals move from a transactional way of thinking to being more strategic – strategic in meeting customers and employees needs.

What can be done to make change more effective in the business?

For change to be effective, engagement on specific content that allows for a shift in mindset, and the ideas around what it means is important, so that change can be embedded behaviourally – in the minds of many.

There are differences in approaches to change based on anthropological or cultural beliefs. There is space within OD tools to reveal long-held beliefs and ideas including how change occurs and how the organisation has evolved, rather than the assumption that one way will be most effective. Our psychology is non-linear and so engagement needs to wrap the project and population continuously, providing structure, clarity and time to assimilate. 

Much of the change process may be ambiguous and paradoxical, and is therefore uncontrollable in every sense. This is one reason for the need for variability in organisational design or project management, and more sophisticated examination of determining underlying issues, and pinpointing where and how intervention and change can occur relevant to the psychology of individuals.

For change to be effective:

  1. Change needs to be driven by customers needs. This relationship needs to be established and maintained. Change needs to understand employees – how they view the world the world, what keeps them motivated to perform.
  2. Change needs to be timely, and leadership needs to be committed to it
  3. Understand how the population understands change, and what is it thats needed to change both on a strategic and operational level. Look at bottom-up and top-down approaches. Look at learning strategies that allow people to develop the ability to meet change.
  4. Change needs to be communicated to all staff so that they know why change is happening. Allow for individuals to feel creatively engaged and able to exercise their own agency around change. This is about the management of time, and approach to engagement.
  5. Employees need to understand their role in it. Spending time in engagement to shift mindset is possibly the most important and resistant area of change. Doing this prior to actual process change and approval is where you’ll find opportunity. Use co-creative processes to allow individuals to explore what is possible. The same is true in a therapeutic setting – those wanting to do therapy will inevitably do much better with it – not only in reaching their own level of meaning and health, but also develop skills to deal more consciously with other issues that may surface. 

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