Date: 06/07/21 | Duration: 00:30:37

Organisations must constantly adapt to an everchanging environment. This may include evolving customer demands, new technologies, increased competition, and even a global crisis. Many have negotiated their way through the pandemic by reflex – adjusting practices on the fly to align with government guidance and the latest developments. But as we look to build for the longer term, does change management require a different approach? 

Join Nigel Cassidy and this month’s guests, Melanie Franklin, Founder and Principal of Agile Change and Nick Williams, change management expert and CIPD Board Member, as we discuss change implementation, the behavioural barriers, and how people professionals can lead and help organisations to embrace change.

Nigel Cassidy: Still standing after the last 18 months so you know your organisation can cope with change but how will you manage the next wave? I'm Nigel Cassidy and this is the CIPD podcast.

Well whoever said that a change is as good as a rest well they'd clearly never been involved in a change programme because just as many are longing for a little post-lockdown predictability businesses face seismic shifts in customer demands, in global and trade markets and in digital technology and of course it’s the people professionals who have to sell the human aspects of restructuring to an often resistant workforce, bedding in new strategies, policies and procedures, maybe all new technology or a much needed change of culture. Well with me to discuss how to best embrace and support organisational change Melanie Franklin, Founder and Principal of Agile Change Management who's sought after to inspire people to embrace and lead change having worked for a string of major public, private and not for profit organisations. Hello.

Melanie Franklin: Hello.

NC: And we’re joined by CIPD board member Nick Williams, he's led digital and cultural change in government for Amazon, PWC, hello to you.

Nick Williams: Hello Nigel.

NC: So Nick as I suggested at the start I mean COVID-19 has taught us that we can change, we can adapt pretty radically and quickly and I suppose organisations have got through the pandemic by sort of adjusting things as they’ve gone along, ever-changing government guidance to follow and all that, the sort of change that would have previously taken years.

NW: The last 18 months has been unprecedented for most businesses with the pandemic, with the shift in working and hybrid working for employees, the increased usage of technology, the changes in processes, in policies, it’s been tough and I think what we can all agree on is that this change is here to stay and continue over the next couple of years with the introduction of digital, AI, robotics, in the workplace as well as a shift involved in responsibilities. I think this is a great opportunity for the workforce but also HR professionals to really think about what change means and what change management and change leadership is actually all about and what capabilities are required there. 

NC: Well quite so. Melanie Franklin I know you're concerned with use how much people have been through and as a result of all these things which we’ve just heard about the situation is quite messy in some companies and of course people long to go back to the familiar, it kind of gives us peace doesn’t it doing things how we used to do them and liked to do them.

MF: I think first of all that people are utterly exhausted. I was giving this some consideration last night when I was thinking about my previous role many years ago as global head of crisis management and one of the things I learnt there, a bit like last March when we all fell into the hole that was COVID, is that you can quickly fall into the hole. So you make peace with what’s happening, you deal with the emergency situation, you live on the adrenalin, but it’s always so much harder to climb out of the hole, it takes so much longer and you slip and fall multiple times before you finally get to daylight again. And I think that is how it feels right now. I keep reading interviews with CEOs who are very proud that their organisations, as Nick was mentioning, have been able to change and change at pace, so they’ve brought along technology change at a much faster rate than they'd ever hoped, and they’re very proud of that. And the theme though is, and we’re going to continue to change at this pace, and everybody I know is going, please stop we need to catch our breath! So I think we’re at an inflection point here about how clever we need to be about the changes that we pick and how they are managed if we aren’t to cause a crisis.

NW: And what a great point Melanie, you know, I really resonate with that and I think what’s most important for organisations to think about is what do your people want, what are they looking for, what have they told you, are you listening to them? And I think good change management and the approaches that organisations have taken that organisations that have done really well in change have listened to the workforce. They’ve gone, okay well we’re over the pandemic do you want to work at home permanently or do you want to work in the office, do you want to come back or do you not? What percentage of the workforce wants to do x, y, z well actually the answer is do what you like and there's lots of media press releases recently about organisations taking different approaches and as Melanie mentions I think CEOs are really excited about the changes that are happening, the next question is are those changes going to stick and I guess for CFOs and CEOs are you going to see the return on investment that you're making in the next year or so.

NC: Okay so in a way you’re kind of challenging the actual change process itself and its value?

MF: Well I think for me there are two levels of change, there is the level at the senior executive level and then there is the change that is experienced by all those who are expected to work different and to adopt new ways of working. And I think if we are to take things forward there are two lessons, one at the executive level what I'm experiencing is the need for focus. There is so much change, there are so many opportunities for change it requires real personal discipline to be willing to take the decisions that say we’re going to focus on these things and we’re not going to get distracted by all of these other opportunities. But that requires a level of skill in decision making and prioritisation that I'm not seeing and that scares me. When you take a decision to say we’re going to focus on x it means you've also accepted and made peace with the idea that you are going to let the opportunities of y and z go past you and I'm not seeing that willingness and so the alternative which those who have to work differently are suffering from is, oh we’ll try everything, oh let’s just give this a go and that scattergun approach is leading to exhaustion. On the flipside those who are experiencing change the things that they are looking for and need the most is practical guidance, they need change to be made as simple as possible, Nick just referred to the fact that let people decide. Yeah you’ve got to let people decide, there is something here and I'm sure we’ll pick up in a moment about empowerment and autonomy but that has to be married with an ability, simple intuitive way of doing change to get on board with a new way of working.

NC: But Nick isn't there a problem here because often the people managers, the HR people probably had no say in the overall shape of the change, they are having to implement stuff, they’re having to be mindful of some of these things that you've talked about, about how people are feeling, how effective these changes are going to be if they don't win hearts and minds. So short of going back to senior managers and saying, look, stop, let’s talk about this, HR can do very little can't they? 

NW: And that's where good change management is pivotal, it’s about creating the leadership alignment. The top teams have to believe in what they’re doing intrinsically, they can't get up in the morning and say, okay well strategically I need to make x amount of savings and so therefore I'm just going to do it because I think it’s the right thing, because guess what, on the journey when they are trying to articulate that vision, that purpose to their teams and to senior managers they're not going to believe it and so why are people going to believe it. So I guess the step is all about ensuring that top team is aligned, they understand the purpose, the vision, they resonate with it, they’re able to challenge and provide that diversity of thought, those thinking and ideas are taken into account, before then you go, okay well let’s move forward. For the HR function let’s remember HR’s moving from more of an administrative function to more of a strategic function, leaders in the business are looking at HR, at HR business partners and HR directors to help them think about change management and implementation, but it’s not just change management it’s change leadership. They’re looking for that objective opportunity to go, how do we make this happen? What tools do we need? But how do we message this clearly? How do we do this in a controlled way whilst we are looking at emerging change in an exponential way? So there are lots and lots of barriers here, but I think organisations can really think about what skills and capabilities they require in this area and then move forward.

MF: I think for an HR person now to be successful I definitely agree we’re moving much more into the strategic role. What that means I think in terms of change is being willing to challenge when there is that lack of focus and that lack of decision making around the direction of travel and what’s expected of staff. HR have an important role to play in speaking up on behalf of everyone generally and saying a scattergun approach will really harm us, so what are the key things that you want us to focus on. Leaders don't get there naturally, it is incredibly hard because for every decision you take you are aware of what you’re cutting out, what the opportunities you might be leaving behind. And in a world of so many opportunities there is so much more ambition than there are available resources, whether that's time or people or money, that you have to get into that decision making mode and I think senior HR leaders have a very important role to play in that initial challenge as well as being able to represent the voice on the rest of that journey about how staff are feeling and how we need to support them. 

NW: And what is it that helps HR leaders and change leaders in the organisation to make those decisions? I think it’s data and it’s data and insights and so you're  seeing a seismic shift of the HR function anyway, you’re seeing more data led decision making around people, seeing more technology that's being brought in, that data can help you make those change decisions; that information and the metrics around how people are feeling; how many people are joining the organisation, how many people are leaving the organisation; why are they doing that; what’s the adoption rate for the previous bit of change you just adopted; where have you got the most resistance in the organisation and therefore what are you going to do to tackle that resistance rather than just taking a holistic approach across the organisation and then blaming the fact that it costs a lot of money to implement change right? I think data and information and metrics are very, very important to create those insights.

NC: Nick I'm glad you've mentioned resistance because I was going to ask both of you about that, first Melanie and then come back to you, are people, notwithstanding all we’ve heard about how tough it’s been, are people inherently resistant to change?

MF: Yes as human beings we are. We enjoy the fact that we know what we’re doing. In change we call that unconscious competence and the two words are kind of important, number one the competence, the competence I know what I'm doing therefore competence is confidence, it can also be status in that I know what I'm doing, I feel good about myself, people come to me to ask me what I'm doing. So competence is confidence and status. It’s reassuring, it feels very comfortable and unconscious competence means it’s automatic, it’s a habit, it’s a well-travelled path. So I don't have to keep it in the forefront of my mind. I don't have to think about it. The problem with change is that what it does is it confronts any and all of us, whether the change is good or bad, with the same issue. It makes me consciously incompetent. Incompetent, wow this is new, I don't know what I'm doing, I'm going to have to work out how to make this work, and conscious, it’s in the forefront of my mind, which means that change is mentally very draining, it’s exhausting because we have to be focused on things. Those two factors mean that resistance to change is just as naturally saying, oh I've got too much on I don't want to do this. It’s not that we’re rejecting necessarily the quality of the change or whether the change is a good or bad idea, what we are rejecting is the exhausting journey to move from our current ways of working, even if we accept that they are not the best way of doing things, and that the nirvana that we’re being promised is actually really beneficial, but the journey to get from one to the other is so exhausting on top of our existing workload that our resistance can often be quite passive because that resistance is, I'm going to disengage purely to save my sanity.

NC: So do you agree with that Nick? When you’re working with people on change programmes do you see typically resistance everywhere or is it sometimes a bit patchy?

NW: So I do agree. And the question I would ask listeners is do you remember the last good day you had or the last bad day you had? And I always use that Nigel because you will remember all the change journeys that you have been on that have been terrible and therefore that experience featured as part of your resistance. So you will think about the organisational structural change that happened to you two or three years ago but no operating model change, no change in the ways of working, no recognition of the fact your role and responsibilities also changed, you had more workload, you needed to do things faster, you needed to use more technology. With the tech it’s the same thing, a new system was introduced but you were never taught how to use it, there was no time given to you to learn about it, you weren’t involved with the processes. So resistance I think comes inherently from the experiences that you've had but also the messaging, the involvement that you have in the process. And I think organisations have to let go and accept that they are going to have a group of people who resist change. It’s then what tools, methodologies and purpose can you drive within the business and organisation to help people get over that resistance. And I think, you know, Melanie and I have spoken before, there are people who will never come off that resistance journey and you have to accept that because you’re not always going to please everybody, you’re looking to please the majority.

NC: Okay so let’s be practical about this then, let’s talk about a difficult change programme somewhere, Melanie just talk us through, I mean perhaps you give them a kind of talk, touching on some of the things you've said, to get them to understand the process they’re going to go through but how do you actually tackle making things happen?

MF: I think there are two main themes and the biggest one is the one that is least likely to occur. So there are very few organisations that do change well because they fall at this first hurdle which is that there is genuine belief amongst all staff that the difficult decision’s around prioritisation, and therefore that there is genuinely enough time for them to get involved in the change, have actually been taken. Too often we need to change direction, we need to implement this system, we need to do this, is put on top of the existing responsibilities. Now I've been doing an informal survey for over ten years, everybody I talk to, the people that come my way are involved in change, they're trying to lead their own small teams through change, they might be leading a department or an entire country office and they’re pretty much doing about 130% of their contract hours already, they’re already giving a third extra, whether that's the people that start work on a Sunday night because they start to plan their work for the week ahead; some people set aside an hour on a Saturday morning to try to get a grip of what happened in the previous week. People stay late, they come in early, we don't have proper lunch breaks. So generally people are already over-committed and that hurdle of well let’s just throw another thing on top and see if they can cope, there's a lack of believability in the change because whatever the benefits are it’s outweighed by that, yeah it sounds great but no seriously we don't have the time, we’ve got so much else on. So there is a very simple thing to be done, and I've seen it done in very few of my clients over the years which is up front they sit around and say, not what the change is going to be but how can we streamline, how can we take away things right now that will bring back some time? Let’s cancel some of these meetings, let’s stop asking for these reports, let’s stop getting people to create these presentations. We could look in the systems ourselves for that data. I’ve seen this happen, I saw it happen as a domino effect in one board where one person spoke up and said what they were going to get rid of, and it was the CEO, and then he looked at the next person along and she came up with what she was going to get rid of and it went like a domino effect and funnily enough they made the quickest progress in transforming their organisation. So there is something very practical that can be done and it goes to the heart of believability from staff, it goes to the heart of the ability of staff to genuinely take part, to take ownership, otherwise how can they?

NW: I’ll take on two main points. The first one is around benefits. I think often organisations get stuck with change management or promoting the use of change management when it comes to benefit realisation. Often on programme management agendas, on portfolio management agendas at the board it’s almost what’s the return on investment from a cash perspective that I'm going to get here? So the quantifiables. But change is quantifiable as well as qualitative. There's the narrative piece around employee experience and employees being genuinely satisfied, energised, positive about working in that organisation because either their technology is state of the art and they’re able to work mobile and work from home without having any difficulties and I've got the best organisation because I can look at my payslip, sign off, sign on, whenever I need to. You've got the benefits around people’s usage of time savings I think you can think about. I think organisations really have to be innovative when they think about change and benefits so if there was a role and responsibility shift for example how much time are we saving by changing that role and responsibility. How many people are currently doing that role and what’s the benchmark salary of those people, therefore do the maths and that's your saving, if you want to talk numbers. I think there is a way to talk numbers, I think as qualified change practitioners we really understand how to carve out those numbers and showcase something in an investment or business case to really show the value. And I think organisations often get stuck at the, I don't want to invest at the outset in change because it’s going to cost me x and it’s increasing the price of my programme and I don't have that investment and I can't see the numbers at the back end. You can all see the numbers at the back end and guess what you probably won't need to do your technology, your operating model changes twice or three times because you'll get it right first time. So benefits is really important, I think it’s a sticky conversation that most change programme managers and board members have. The second thing is change management isn't necessarily a capability that is only run within bespoke programmes. In HR we run diversity and inclusion programmes, culture change programmes, programmes for bring in new wellbeing systems and processes to look after staff. I think change managers are real subject matter experts in this place and therefore the value should be promoted across every part of the organisation to bring them in. HR can move into finance to help them with their purchase to pay solutions and their ERP solutions, they can move into commercial elements, they can move into sales, change managers can move around an organisation and I think that's the benefit of having them. And I think what I’ve been talking about is how to articulate that and how to showcase that benefit across the business.

NC: This is quite a sophisticated approach to managing change, a lot of people are still stuck, as I think one of you said to me before, on spreadsheets and on PowerPoint or something, the art of change management has moved on, which of course brings us to the question Melanie is it something best left to specialists, if you're not specifically trained should you either get training or bring in an outsider to manage all this? Is an outsider actually somebody who can tackle some of these entrenched issues more easily because they are independent, they don't have a history with the company?

MF: I think the first thing is that with the volume of change, just looking at it from a common sense point of view, no organisation can solely rely on externals, it would never get through all of the change that it actually wants to happen. And increasingly I am seeing, and this is over the last four or five years, so this pre-dates COVID but a recognition by organisations that actually building an internal capability for managing change is incredibly important. Now what that means is they have invested in bringing on people like me but who actually work for their organisation and are heading up some kind of centralised change team. But that doesn’t negate the fact that actually, as we’ve already said about HR professionals but in fact across all leadership roles, understanding what on earth behavioural change actually is, what are the steps to manage and implement behavioural change is an incredibly important skillset. I keep saying to people it really is the defining leadership skillset of the 21st century. Now I'm old enough to remember when we were always taught that you couldn’t go into the boardroom unless you had really good financial skills. Then about probably 15 years ago the message changed that you couldn’t go into the boardroom unless you had excellent IT skills. And now we’re getting that message that actually unless you've got experience and ability in transformation you really can't get into the boardroom. So I think there is something, anecdotal evidence aside, there is something there around how important transformation as a skillset is. That isn't to say that externals aren’t incredibly important but they have to be used cleverly and they are not an excuse for not building the skill within your organisation. So if you don't know the basics of how humans react to change and how actually we can lead ourselves through a journey from that conscious incompetence I talked about to getting back to unconscious competence then get informed. There are plenty of ways to do that but it is a skillset that is incredibly important and very simply it’s because we all know we’re living in a world where there are so many different opportunities for change, internally you can choose certain changes but also an organisation that maybe doesn’t want to change that much still doesn’t get a choice because all of their partner organisations, their regulators, their markets, their competitors, their industry and their customers, are all changing at pace. And so there's an awful lot of change taking, not change originating happening. So you've got no choice, you can't say, oh we don't feel like making change happen. No we’ve all got to change. We keep changing all of the time. If you don't have that capability internally how on earth are you going to cope?

NC: And Nick Williams you've been on this journey yourself and specialise in change now, what other advice would you give people who want to become much better at helping their organisations to get through these kind of things?

NW: I think often consultants and external providers are seen as snake oil charm salesmen but actually I think most consultants, most external perspective we bring is to work with the organisations that we think are needing support and want to move forward. So I tend to work a lot with the public sector and rail and infrastructure and the working in house yes you absolutely need capability, you need people to understand what change is. The struggles in house is that often you can't get through the politics of a board because guess what you’re part of that organisation so your chief finance officer, your chief HR officer, your chief executive officer says, you know what I don't fancy doing this so we’re not doing it, how confident are you as a change manager, programme manager, to challenge it? And that's I think the key thing. What the external perspective brings, and often through consultants or external FTCs what they bring is that level of challenge because actually you know what that global benchmarking across other organisations, what’s the market currently doing in that particular space? What are the best approaches and the most innovative approaches that have been created and implemented? And guess what change changes every day, there are so many new ways of leading and driving change. And the most innovative one I've seen recently is EY’s change experience model which is technology led. It’s built through the Harvard Business School and it uses data and insights to find pockets of resistance to then send out different tools and techniques to get those people back on the journey and measures it iteratively. There is so much out there.

NC: I mean that sounds quite expensive but I love the idea of actually winkling out where the resistance is, that might suggest that there might be problems with the change programme itself Melanie Franklin, maybe you don't need Harvard to fix that?

MF: I think it always comes back to this basic point, can you very quickly ask any member of staff do you know what we’re trying to do around here?

NC: Okay that's good.

MF: You don't need to go too much further than that I don't think.

NC: That's excellent advice, a couple more tips from you on more effective change in your organisation?

MF: I think one of the key tips I’d say from an HR perspective is this, tackle one of the other big blockers. We are asking people to get involved in change, we’re asking people to also do their day job, have you genuinely reflected that in their job description because if it’s not in their job description then they won't have key performance indicators attached to it and as we all know what we measure is genuinely what people when push comes to shove put their efforts behind. And so if you are asking a staff member, maybe they're a middle manager who 70% of the job is getting the day job done and servicing customers and looking after staff but another 30% is how they reinvent their own job, how they reinvent the work of their staff, how they integrate new systems and new ways of working from other parts of the organisation. If that 30% of their effort isn't recognised as a key part of their role and if they are not evaluated on it where is the incentive for them not only to do it but also to do it well and to get better at doing it? I keep tripping over this issue that when I pick out the job descriptions of people I don't see that there is a combination of run the business, change the business sitting there together then we fall at that hurdle when the going gets tough.

NC: And Nick Williams data can help with all that, you've already banged the drum for data any other final thoughts from you?

NW: So organisations remember change is exponential and change is non-stop and it’s not going anywhere. So change is going to be on the continuous cycle for organisations and I think in the market we can probably all agree that we are seeing more transformation and more change roles out there. So there is a need. So I think that's number one. I think look for small wins and quick wins, breakdown the change into steps rather than jumping into something and then losing control, and that's where qualified change practitioners and leaders can really support in helping you carve out that journey. And finally understand your people and engage with them regularly. I think the people are very, very important, the workforce will tell you how they feel and if organisations are doing that consistently you’re on a better road to adopting those benefits that you’re looking for.

NC: Well brilliant advice from both of you, thank you very much to our great duo Melanie Franklin and Nick Williams. I certainly agree with that remark about change being inevitable. I read somewhere change is inevitable except from the office vending machine. And as we finish I'm a bit allergic to inspirational quotes but I did like this one, Change is hard at the start, messy in the middle, but best at the end. Do subscribe to the CIPD podcast so you'll never miss the new edition each month. Please pass on the link to anyone who you might think will find the show useful. Until next time from me Nigel Cassidy and all of us at the CIPD it’s goodbye.