Philippa Lamb: It’s not news that change is a big deal for organisations – what would be news would be definitive help on how to get it right. How can the learning, organisational design and HR professionals who are all charged with putting transformation into practice be really sure of what will work?
Professor Julia Balogun: There’s an awful lot of research out there, there's a plethora of advice, models, theories and best practice so how do you negotiate that train if you're a chief executive and particularly, maybe most importantly, if you’re one of the HR or OD practitioners whose responsibility is to work in partnership and advise those people, how do you navigate that train? Who do you listen to? What do you listen to?
PL: That’s what prompted the CIPD’s two-part research project on change. It’s led by Julia Balogun, she's Director at the University of Liverpool Management School. Now initially her study involved a thorough literature review and a great deal of work pulling out the best bits from the crowded landscape of change management advice.
In the second part of the report she moved on to practical applications and examples of organisations which have done a brilliant job of getting change right. We’ll be hearing from one of them in a moment, first though let’s hear from Julia herself about the role leadership plays in transformational change.
JB: These chief executives and business leaders recognised that their job was leading change. They didn’t design it, throw it over the wall and say to somebody else, “You now go and do it,” they recognised they were in it for the long-term and it was part of their job and their role to keep leading this and keep sustained attention on it.
One of the most significant things was the way they then recognised that they’re not some mythical heroic leader out there up front on a white charger, this isn’t a fairy story: they needed the rest of the team behind them so this is very much about building the capability to lead and deliver change. That's where HR and OD became really critical was they were the expert facilitators in there helping those business leaders and their teams do that work.
PL: Expert facilitators, now that is a shift. It’s not so long ago that change leadership was seen as HR’s sole domain but not anymore.
JB: In three of the case study organisations there were very talented top HR people involved but they weren’t necessarily in highly visible HR roles. So you’d have some people with HR backgrounds they get put into what might look like more general leadership roles but they still had that HR experience and I think putting a hard line between HR, OD, L&D, that certainly was pretty difficult. However the critical thing was the way they were building off the knowledge and expertise that they'd garnered and they were then a working business partnership. And I think that's another key thing about the report it showed not that chief executives were stepping up to the plate but the HR people weren't just talking about being business partners, they'd arrived. They were genuinely working as business partners but often in the background, almost invisibly so. They were the hidden hand. But yes it might also therefore mean that you are less visible and get less credit than some of the more front line people.
PL: Julia’s team have shown that successful change involves a blurring of the lines between the learning, organisational design and HR functions. And HR’s ideal role is becoming much more nuanced.
JB: I think they're leading in a different way. It’s not that they’re not leaders, they are leading in terms of a cadre of people who have expertise and pushing that expertise out there and actually as you go down the organisation if you look at some of the techniques, the building, understanding and commitment, the mass communication events, the way the visions are translated into detail, at that point the HR people often do become far more visible because they’re often leading and designing those processes and working with, not just the senior executives, but also middle managers who are also very critical to the change process.
So I think they’re leading in a different was and maybe not in the way that we traditionally think about leadership. They’re thought leaders maybe.
PL: James Sutherland is Interim HR Business Consultant, Zurich, one of the case study organisations in Julia’s research project. Zurich employs around 7,000 people here in the UK in 15 locations, most of them work in the UK Life business in Swindon and Cheltenham and in 2012 they began a change programme they called PACE.
James Sutherland: So PACE is our nice mnemonic for Passionate, Agile, Collaborative and Externally focused. When we started the journey it was ACE, so we didn’t have the passion! Because actually if you don't have the passion to do the right thing then the other behaviours don't follow.
PL: There had been a lot of change at Zurich in the run-up to PACE, a new CEO, a significant internal reshaping exercise and the external landscape had altered too with changes in consumer behaviour and regulation. Unsurprisingly all this led to reluctance to embrace yet more change from some departments.
JS: People were very comfortable in their routines. There was an established set of behaviours that would make you successful. Those behaviours were recognised and that was around discipline, delivery, control. And we were looking in this culture change for something that was more around collaboration, agility and an external focus, so not process focus and internal focus, something that looked at what was happening in the market and empowered people to make the decisions for themselves that they felt would work in that context.
PL: The HR team helped formulate the communication strategy which used change champions and ambassadors, not simply to get the information out, although that was key, but also to bring messages and responses back to the central group and between different functions.
JS: That group is responsible for three types of communication: it’s responsible for taking the central messages and making them relevant and real to the functions that they work in. It’s about bringing messages back from the functions into the central group and to the PACE champions’ group and then onto the exec so that we can get a sense for the challenges people are feeling, how messages are landing, the general mood for the change, but also facilitating the communication within the function. So between exec teams and management teams and frontline staff.
PL: Where did senior management play into this face to face contact? Did you put them in front of large groups of people? Did they wander round the buildings? How did that work?
JS: So the PACE champions’ group didn’t replace management responsibility for encouraging the right behaviours and the right culture, what the PACE champions were doing in part was challenging the exec members of the senior managers when they saw things that didn’t sit right with the target culture.
PL: Some of Zurich’s departments have hundreds of employees so anything less than a comprehensive web of change champions and ambassadors really hadn’t got a hope of reaching every corner of the business. But this pales next to the challenge which faced HM Revenue and Customs, another of Julia's case studies. HMRC had to reach 50,000 people three times in two years and fascinatingly they decided to do it face to face.
JB: I think what’s significant really is the investment in those processes. You can immediately put a finger on costs and go, okay well you have to rent a room and take people there and feed them but think about the amount of executive time that involves and the commitment that takes from executives separate to their day to day work. This is about how the change process becomes their day to day work.
PL: So your sense is that doing it that way, as you say, it’s hugely arduous in all sorts of areas isn’t it but it really made a much more significant difference than if they'd done it in a more 21st century, online, Skyping, whatever, if they’d done it that way you don't think it would have worked as well?
JB: I don't think it would have worked as well. I mean interestingly there has long been in change research that shows that face to face is the most relevant because when you’re talking with people face to face you don't just hear a voice, particularly if they’re answering questions and engaging in dialogue it’s not a stage performance you get indicators from them by not just their voice and what they’re saying but the way that they’re expressing themselves through their bodily position, the gestures they use, the genuineness of the facial expressions.
PL: So this is about authenticity?
JB: It’s about the credibility, it’s not just about the narrative credibility. It’s about narrator credibility.
PL: Back at Zurich James and his team dreamt up some truly original ways to bring people face to face. Here he is talking about one they called “The Hunger Games”.
JS: We asked each function to nominate some people to come and have lunch and we sat them in groups of four and they had conversations for five minutes and we had some conversation starter bowls. So we had some work-related questions, if people were feeling very serious and professional.
PL: What sort of things?
JS: So it’s what does PACE mean to you? What projects are you working on at the moment? What was the last challenge that you faced in doing your day job?
PL: So kind of the sort of thing you might expect?
JS: Yeah. And then we had a separate bowl for more fun, creative types of questions. So who would you have to a dinner party and why? Where would your ideal holiday destination be? What do you want to happen to your body after you die? Every five minutes everyone swapped and sat with a different group of three and then again it was about building networks, at the heart of collaboration, at the heart of agility it’s about building networks and allowing people to connect, not through escalation to manager, manager to head of, head of to exec and then back down, having people nominated to work with it’s going, “I need to do this, I need to know about this. I know someone that knows about that.”
PL: “That guy in IT”. “That woman in marketing”.
JS: Exactly and building those networks. So “The Hunger Games” and getting people together in any of those initiatives it’s been about helping build those networks at a more junior level.
PL: Greater agility across the company was key to Zurich’s change programme. Queue another genius idea from James and the team. “Breaking the habits of a lifetime week”, five days dedicated to snapping people out of tried and tested ways of doing things.
JS: We realised that there were lots of routines that people got into. So there was one way into the building, the main building we worked in, you put your badge in, you went through a revolving door, you got in the lift, you went up to your desk.
PL: Same old, same old, every day.
JS: Yeah and what we tried to do during that week was help people identify those niggles, those things they were doing that they just did despite the fact that they were adding no value. So we had Disturbance Monday and Disturbance Monday was just about breaking some of those routines, changing things within the environment, asking people to make changes that made them think about the things they were doing more consciously.
PL: What sort of things?
JS: So the things we weren't allowed to do were things like changing the direction of the revolving doors. So anything that just shook people out or making the lifts in the building gender-specific, removing some of the chairs from the desks so that people couldn’t sit where they normally sat.
JS: Those were things that we couldn’t do and what we did do was suggestions such as, go and speak with someone that you haven’t spoken to for a while, wear your watch on a different hand, walk a different route to work. What we then did for the remainder of the week, for example on Tuesday we were then collecting all of those: right you've identified these habits, what is it that you do that adds no value to your day – it was about identifying those habits that you slipped into and the routines.
PL: Change is uncomfortable. It’s human to resist it but James tried to get round that by making the change programme unmissable.
JS: I think one of the targets within these initiatives, of course you've got people that don't engage in them, who will sit there and grumble and groan, our ambition in all these initiatives have been to make not taking part a regret so that people that decided to sit at their desk and do their day job rather than go and learn how to deal with challenging behaviours or listen to the chief actuary talk about how to manage a career as an SME or listen to the intermediary sales director talk about what it means to be a distributor in today’s landscape, you want them to feel like they’ve missed out if they’ve not taken part and that's how you make change people’s responsibility and create the energy I think is how we’ve done it from our experience.
PL: A more curious organisation?
JS: Yeah absolutely.
PL: Cliff Oswick is Professor of Organization Theory and Deputy Dean at Cass Business School, he's also the European editor of The Journal of Organisational Change Management. The way he sees it from here on it there's going to be a very different sort of change happening in organisations, one brought about not just by the digital revolution or market forces but by an entirely different generational mindset.
Cliff Oswick: I think that we used to live in a very predictable and stable world so change used to be easier to manage when it was more contained, less people were digitally connected, so you could have situations where change started with a problem, there is a very clear linear path to a solution and there wasn't often dissent around the problem, there was a respect for hierarchy, so if a senior manager said, “The problem is X and the solution is Y,” then there was generally a willingness to buy into that. I think that there have been all sorts of social changes and technological changes which have altered the pattern and landscape of acceptance of change.
PL: So if top down dictats really aren’t going to cut it anymore, change management is going to have to be reinvented.
CO: I think there are two distinct ways forward. One is what I would call a top down, sideways type approach which is what I would refer to as dialogic type interventions. So in other words you can have someone decide let’s create space, an opportunity for people to be engaged in a process of change, appreciative inquiry, future search, world café are all techniques where you get lots of people in the room and you talk about where you might be going. So it’s a very projective endeavour. What should the future look like in this organisation? How can we co-construct that?
PL: So blue sky rather than addressing specific problems?
CO: Yes and it’s a focus on what might be rather than what has been. I think what we’re starting to see develop and what I would refer to as an emerging approach to change is more of a social movement type approach so we create conditions where we have bottom up type change. We know the wisdom of crowds arguments. We know that generally groups make better decisions than individuals. So to create the conditions where people can instigate processes of change, not at a specified time and place, as with some of the techniques we just described such as appreciative inquiry, but create conditions where people can coalesce around an idea. So we privilege networks over hierarchies. We create opportunities for internal crowd sourcing for example. I think in the future, within the next five or ten years, we’re going to see internal crowd sourcing is a very common phenomenon. The idea there are all sorts of platforms, you know social media encourages us to stay connected so we need to harness that rather than work against it.
PL: So where does this leave the inspirational leader?
CO: The days of the rock star CEO are dead. Decisions are generally better made through groups rather than individual then what we have is a CEO, the best charismatic CEOs of the future won't be providing strong direction, they will provide strong facilitation.
CO: Enablers and I think there is lots of evidence to suggest that's emerging.
PL: You’re probably already thinking now hold on there's an issue with information here, the leadership make tough decisions, based on available data, that data is often confidential. All hell might break loose if it’s shared with the whole company so is Cliff really suggesting that if the crowd is the decision maker we have to share everything with the crowd?
CO: Let me be clear I'm not advocating, the danger is it sounds like I'm advocating some sort of commune where people burn joss sticks and everyone’s involved in every decision, what I was suggesting is that hierarchy will always exist and there will always be a need to make tough decisions because if you try to internally crowd source very negative decisions people generally defer to the hierarchy. You get people saying, “You’re in charge you decide.” So I'm not actually suggesting the hierarchy won't be there I'm suggesting that we actively suspend it in terms of processes of innovation and change: that we deliberately focus on a network and a networked approach that is facilitative in nature.
PL: James’ team at Zurich work hard to involve people in the change process in the hope they’d make new connections and build networks that would make them more agile in their work. But did it work?
JS: I'm going to say yes. If you ask me to evidence it I will struggle but I think the sorts of things we have coming through in terms of our PACE award scheme, the types of nominations we get, the way the organisation works it feels different.
PL: More integrated?
PL: Zurich’s change process is ongoing so where do they go from here?
JS: I think we’re still on that journey. I think one of the challenges that we have is we know the journey we’ve been on so we can manage our culture and we can recognise our culture change in the rear view mirror. I’m not sure that we’re yet managing it through the windscreen. So if you were to ask me in six months’ time what will the next steps on your cultural journey have been? I couldn’t talk in terms of tangibles at the moment. I think what we’ll do is we’ll find the things that are inhibiting more demonstration of those behaviours and we’ll address those as we identify them. And understanding what the destination looks like has always been the tricky piece.
PL: Wherever James heads on his PACE journey Cliff is sure that involving people at all levels of the organisation and really democratising the process brings the additional wins that make the difference.
CO: I think you get what I would call genuine engagement rather than pseudo engagement. So often top down people talk about engaged employees and they’re not really that engaged, this creates an engagement because people are actively part of the organisation, which has all sorts of benefits: lower absenteeism, higher levels of productivity, there's all sorts of evidence that supports that. I think one of the great examples is the NHS they’ve got a group called The New Horizons Group that have set up a network of activists focused on patient care. So they’ve reduced the number of bedsores by getting people involved in actively managing that: porters, surgeons, nurses, so it’s an informal network which creates processes of active change.
PL: Need advice on how to get started on active change? Here’s Cliff’s mini guide on how to do it.
CO: Regular meetings that people feel that they can contribute actively. So simply encouraging people to present ideas and acting upon those ideas, even if it’s not pursuing them entirely but explaining to people why that didn’t work and why it’s not appropriate, so you kind of re-crowd source ideas so you get all the ideas and then you apply something like a nominal group technique asking people to rank the ideas that have been suggested and which ones they personally favour. So you almost have a kind of vote-in around the ideas that are suggested. I like to see it in this way that you involve people in the process and they become active in that process.
PL: To read the whole Landing Transformational Change report go to the research report page on the CIPD website or you can check out the link on the podcast page.
If you have thoughts, ideas or experiences of embedding change that you’d like to share tweet us at CIPD with the hashtag CIPD podcasts #cipdpodcasts
Thanks for listening this month. Next time we’ll be discussing the story everyone’s talking about VW and HR’s role in business ethics. Can HR be the conscience of an organisation? Should it be? And how can HR professionals raise their ethical game? Don't miss it.