Is your organisation likely to face significant change in the future?
This in depth case study provides some valuable lessons on effective change
As with all aspects of management, much has been
written about how to manage change within the workplace effectively. All agree
that, as human beings, we don’t like change and will resist it as best we can.
It is, therefore, important that managers wishing to introduce change –
particularly where it is likely to make a radical difference – need to manage
the process carefully.
The textbooks tell us that change comes in a
variety of disguises:
- structural – where reconfiguration takes place in order to achieve improved
- cost-cutting – where non-essential activities are eliminated
- process – where the way things are done is altered
- cultural – where there is a shift in the operating values, norms of
behaviour and/or the relationship between management and employees
- strategic purpose – where the organisation re-invents itself with a new strategic
intent, core purpose and/or mission.
I’d like to take you through a real-life change
management process, linked to the text book stages and provide my thoughts on
how successful the process has been.
These are my personal thoughts and may not reflect the thoughts of the
The organisation is an out-sourced provider of
internal audit services to public sector bodies and, in common with the
organisations it delivers services to, is required to significantly reduce
costs as a result of the current economic climate and the overall financial
state of the public sector.
As a service provider, the majority of the costs
are staff related so eliminating non-essential activities has a minimal impact
on the overall costs faced by the organisation. The most effective way to
reduce costs was to look at the structure of the service and identify a more
efficient way in which to deliver it. It was, therefore, determined to change
the structure of the organisation.
Mobilisation of the process
Having determined that costs needed to be
reduced and that the best way to achieve this was to re-structure, a champion
for the process was identified. This individual then worked through a number of
scenarios relating to possible structures and the impact this would have on
costs, service delivery and the staff involved. These scenarios were then
discussed with the organisation’s senior management team where they were
further refined and a final solution identified.
Having started with a structure that consisted
of six discreet teams, both in terms of working practices and locations, it
soon became clear that this produced an overall top heavy management structure
– with more managers than auditors – making it difficult to manage costs
effectively. After several iterations, the best solution appeared to be a
reduction in the overall number of teams down to four without geographical
boundaries and a consolidation of working practices. This new structure
resulted in the need to make 12 individuals redundant.
It became clear, very early in the process, that
when a re-structuring such as that described above takes place the circumstances
of individual staff members cloud the decision making process and that names
(personalities) needed to be removed. It soon became apparent that what was needed
was to remove 12 management posts from the structure not 12 people. This meant
that 24 members of staff were placed at risk of redundancy.
Communicating the change
Having identified a possible solution a formal
implementation plan was written, this was then presented to the unions at the
joint consultative panel where it was further refined prior to dissemination to
the staff affected.
All the ‘at risk’ staff were invited to attend a
meeting where the implementation plan was presented to them. The plan included
the proposed new structure, the process for implementation and the proposed
timetable. The staff were invited to comment and provide alternative
suggestions for all parts of the process which would be taken into
consideration. A final version of the implementation plan would then be
presented to the joint consultative panel for formal approval.
The champion proceeded to hold one to one
meetings with the 24 ‘at risk’ staff. At these meetings, staff were, again,
invited to make any suggestions regarding the proposals, the decision making
process was described to them and personal circumstances were discussed. The
nature of these meetings varied considerably dependent on the individuals; some
were very personal and emotionally charged; others were more matter of fact and
recognised the need for change; some individuals made valid suggestions and
presented ideas for consideration; others were unable to think beyond how it
affected them personally.
It quickly became clear that the 30 staff who
were not ‘at risk’ were anxious that this was the thin end of the wedge and
that very shortly they would be placed ‘at risk’ and, potentially, made
redundant. The champion, then, held one to one or small group meetings with
these 30 members of staff as well. A small number of those not ‘at risk’ staff
did speak with their feet and found themselves alternative employment.
Was this an effective way to communicate? Yes –
all staff were provided with the opportunity to have their say and some took
the opportunity to contribute ideas and suggestions.
Implementing the change
Following final approval of the plan from the
joint consultative panel, the organisation then moved onto the next stage which
involved selecting those posts which would be made redundant. After much debate
and consultation with HR experts around what would constitute a fair process, a
series of tests and a formal interview were determined as the most appropriate
way to make the selection. Each individual was awarded a score from this
process and this score was used to grade them – effectively the individuals
with the lowest score in each banding were made redundant.
Following the selection process, all the staff
identified for redundancy had a series of one to one meeting with the champion
and HR managers.
In the meantime, the remaining staff were
allocated positions in the new structure and a one to one meeting was held with
each of them where they were given feedback on their test results. These
results have been used to formulate personal development plans for each of
Reactions to change
Of those staff made redundant some disengaged
from the organisation immediately and, effectively, took gardening leave;
others undertook discreet projects in their notice period and were productive
members of the team until their final working day.
Of the staff remaining, for some their day to
day life did not fundamentally change – they were based in the same location
and reported to the same line manager. They felt able to sit back and carry on
as before. For others the change was significant; both their base location and
their line manager changed, and there were feelings of resentment that others
In reality, everyone was affected by the change;
the loss of 20% of the total workforce (50% of the management team) resulted in
a change of responsibilities and an immediate increase in workloads. As you
might expect, some reacted well to this and rose to the challenge, others had a
good moan then got on with the task and the rest pretended it hadn’t happened
(increasing the pressure on those that had accepted the change).
A workshop event was held; everyone was allowed
to have a moan by being asked to identify the positive and negative aspects of
the change. Then small working groups were asked to identify ways in which the
negatives could be turned into positives and an action plan was developed with
some clearly defined goals and reward strategies.
Engaging with individuals throughout the
process, recognising and responding to their concerns and keeping them up to
date with what was happening all helped to make them feel involved and that
they have some control over the events going on around them.
Take care of yourself
The change process in the organisation followed
a very rapid timetable (three months from start to finish) and the champion
worked solidly on the project for the entire period. This in itself was
physically demanding and taken alongside the emotional stress resulting from
the redundancies; dealing with individuals who were, naturally, upset; it was
important that the champion took time to ensure their own personal well-being.
Was it worth it?
The immediate monthly cost saving was in excess
of £50k. However, the cost of the process meant that this savings was not
realised until some months later.
The selection process provided a robust
assessment methodology that was subsequently used to identify personal
development plans for all the remaining staff.
The new structure generated more cross
team/boundary working which resulted in a more cost effective and efficient
delivery of the service.
Given the nature of this article, the author has
chosen to remain anonymous.