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ICAS – Working Better Together

1079 days ago
Harnessing the power of change


Most employees are averse to change, yet adapting to it is a prerequisite if businesses are to thrive. Organisations need to ask themselves: what’s the best way to manage change? By Katherine Graham.

It’s a familiar cliché: ‘The only constant is change.’ We see the effects of change everywhere – with individuals, families, communities, organisations and even countries. If you’re a company trying to operate profitably during uncertain times, adapting to change is an ongoing process – whether you’re dealing with new laws, new competitors, different technology or a changing economy.

Gerard van Hoek, of Re-New Consulting, has helped many companies navigate the choppy waters of change. Although change makes many people feel uncomfortable, he believes it is a necessary part of institutional life.

‘Change can bring inspiring opportunity for some people and can be a time of disruption for others,’ he says. ‘Change is necessary for an organisation to remain relevant and competitive.’ Van Hoek views an organisation as a total system: ‘An organisation is a whole entity, organism or system, consisting of various sub-systems. A change in one sub-system may cause strain in another, creating the need for further change. The ripple effect continues and may bring about change in every aspect of the organisation.

Van Hoek asserts that there are two different approaches to change management: one involves management informing staff how change will take place, with employees left feeling disempowered, while the second approach is more dynamic, results-driven and allows employees to take ownership of change.

‘Too many change programmes define change ownership as “taking” people through a change cycle,’ comments Van Hoek. ‘They engage people by means of smart, tailored and well-timed change communication strategies and tactics, involving workshops and training sessions, asking people for information, soliciting people’s inputs through endless surveys, having industrial theatre and entertaining roadshows and running pre-determined interventions.’

In a nutshell

Results-driven organisational change calls for a subtle but profound shift in mindset and change management definition. In results-driven change, leaders begin by identifying the most compelling changes and improvements needed immediately. Tangible change goals are set and achieved in a short time. These immediate wins provide further change insights and build change capacity and capability for greater strategic gains. The process is expanded rapidly, matching change readiness, and often impacts on the organisation as a whole as the rapid results waves are implemented quickly. People become more confident as they learn and grow. The conventional definition of change is about cycles of organisational, group and individual change, set interventions, planned programmes, ‘best practice’ activities, studies, systematic training, and workshops.

And then … faith that things will change … eventually. Robert Schaffer and Harvey Thomson, ‘Successful Change Programmes Begin with Results.’ Harvard Business Review.

But this approach, he believes, does not always yield the desired fruit. ‘In organisational change, means are very often confused with ends,’ he says. In other words, just because your staff attended the change management workshops, training sessions and roadshows doesn’t mean that there have been any tangible results – for example, increased profitability, growth or productivity.

A different approach

The second approach to change management is much less coercive and manipulative, says Van Hoek. Rather, it is flexible and focused on achievable, rapid results.

‘Change goals are defined in specific terms that everyone can understand,’ he explains. For instance, a company announces that it will be launching its new cellular phone in a selected market segment. It aims to achieve first sales orders to the value of R5 million within a period of 100 days. ‘Such an approach will develop new ways of working together and start shifting the culture,’ says Van Hoek. ‘First successes lead to strategic insights and become the stepping stone for more ambitious strategic goals.’

What distinguishes this approach from the first is that management only communicates the end goal to their staff, leaving it up to them how they plan to achieve it. ‘The scope of change is determined by how ready, willing and able the organisation is to make change happen,’ Van Hoek adds. ‘In this way, change capability is built for more challenging steps.’ This approach is characterised by versatility and experimentation. ‘The organisation develops a best-fit model along the way without ignoring existing models,’ says Van Hoek. ‘This is customisation in the true sense of the word.’

A further benefit of this approach is that employees naturally buy into change. ‘People get ownership by doing,’ says Van Hoek. ‘They make the changes. They achieve the results. People are allowed to experiment and innovate in responsible ways.

Change is therefore “sold” through accomplishments and not clever campaigns.

In addition, by aiming for modest goals, the probability of success is increased. ‘The change is chunked down into manageable parts, minimising risk, increasing the probability of success and building change confidence in the organisation,’ Van Hoek explains.

He concludes by saying that real change is about experimenting and learning – quickly. He feels this idea is best summed up by former General Electric CEO Jack Welch, who said: ‘An organisation’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.’


According to Van Hoek, organisational change can originate from these external and internal sources:

  • social, political, labour and economic forces at a global or local level;
  • technological progression;
  • competition;
  • shifts in customer or client needs and expectations;
  • strategic repositioning through, for instance, growth by mergers and acquisitions, diversification, globalisation, organisational consolidation, centralisation, decentralisation or rebranding;
  • the financial state of the organisation;
  • insourcing or outsourcing;
  • performance and productivity improvement needs;
  • challenges or new requirements in HR or talent management.


Resistance to change comes in various shapes and sizes. ‘Moreover, resistance can hide in unexpected places,’ says Van Hoek. ‘And leaders need to remind themselves that it’s perfectly normal.’

What forms of resistance surface in your organisation when you encounter change? What faces of resistance do you see?

According to Van Hoek, there are four critical success factors in allowing people to take ownership of change:

  1. Readiness

Change needs to match the readiness, ability and willingness of the organisation in order to make it happen. ‘A low-key success is a stepping stone for more ambitious gains,’ says Van Hoek.

  1. Change relationships

Stakeholder interests are to be well understood and a collaborative approach is required. Leaders should actively work on removing change barriers and then step out of the way to allow people to improve results.

  1. Rapid succession

A sense of urgency, similar to a crisis situation that requires a ‘must-do’ response, should be present. ‘This takes a sponsor and change agent with the courage to demand and drive results in a way that is constructive,’ says Van Hoek. He believes change action is counted in days and weeks, not months or years.

  1. Focused communication

Lessons are to be reviewed frequently and freely shared across groups and the whole organisation. ‘The informal grapevine in the workplace is encouraged to generate improvement ideas and to spark results-driven action,’ says Van Hoek.

It is important that change leaders have a strategy to deal with resistance. Van Hoek advises the following:

  • Proactively prepare for resistance.
  • Identify resistance when it takes place.
  • View resistance as a natural process, providing needed change data.
  • Distinguish objectively between functional and dysfunctional resistance.
  • Know when behaviour is not resistance.
  • Help groups and individuals to express resistance freely by neutrally naming the resistance.
  • Do not take resistance personally. He recommends using these tested methods

He recommends using these tested methods in supporting staff through change:

  • Get employees dissatisfied with the status quo to engage with change leaders through dialogue and other means of communication.
  • Create a sense of urgency and excitement, with the leaders as forerunners.
  • Have people participate in meaningful action, delivering tangible results.
  • Start with short-term wins in areas where the probability of success is highest.
  • Recognise and reward contributors and encourage others to join.
  • Have a support system to help groups and individuals in distress.

A success story in change management

In their book The New Divide, Richard Pike, Loane Sharp and Ted Black reflect on the successes achieved during the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The authors refer to the global event as a breakthrough for South Africa. SA Football Association (SAFA) President Danny Jordaan, the ‘champion’ of getting the country ready for the first World Cup tournament to be hosted in Africa, had to break the big, challenging and complex programme down into very clear, measurable, short-term ‘chunks’ for project teams to achieve.

As Pike, Sharp and Black describe it, a can-do culture of collaboration and a sense of urgency depicted the run-up to the 2010 FIFA World Cup. ‘A programme culture developed as a result of working together differently on sharply focused project initiatives and not through a pre-planned culture development programme,’ Van Hoek says. The result? A well-organised, highly successful World Cup which South Africans will remember for years to come

♦ End

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