Communications - the route to success in organisational change - Business Works
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Communications - the route to success in organisational change

by Ruth Stuart, Research Adviser for Learning and Development, CIPD Recent research has shown the importance of upward communication on the success of change and, correspondingly, the ability of senior leaders to listen to and honour that upward communication as a legitimate and useful form of information, says Ruth Stuart, Research Adviser for Learning and Development at CIPD.

Those involved in advising on and facilitating change need to understand the importance of both listening and engaging in dialogue with others. The reasons for this are two-fold.

The first is that it is through the exchange of concerns and ideas that employees start to make sense of what is proposed and, in the process of making sense, become more engaged with the change itself.

The second reason is connected to greater expectations of democracy in workplaces. Leaders and designers of change need to recognise that questions from stakeholders about change plans should no longer be simply labelled as 'resistance', but rather seen as legitimate questioning.

This is particularly important as businesses emerge from the recession and return to growth. Relational leadership is key for motivation, while collaborative storytelling enables both leaders and employees to participate actively.

That's what our new research found after identifying the questions that Organisation Development, Learning and Development and HR professionals must ask if they are to facilitate change effectively.

The report, 'Landing transformational change' highlights the need to dissect the change process all the way from the planning to the implementation stages and makes new recommendations for action throughout.

The research was conducted in collaboration with the University of Bath, where Professors Veronica Hope Hailey and Julia Balogun identified three key aspects of change management to provide a framework for any organisation keen to develop their OD capability:

  • How to plan change
    When planning the change process, leaders need to look beyond typical issues such as 'resistance' and scrutinise their organisation more closely to identify any deep-seated attitudes and behaviours that might be hindering change. Culture can then be aligned with strategy.

  • How to build understanding of the need for change
    OD, L&D and HR professionals must consider how to encourage more active participation, which is key for employees to embrace new ways of thinking, learning and behaving. Creating a narrative to represent a new culture leads to shared understanding, and can be supported by physical representations such as drawings, objects and prototypes.

  • How to manage and lead the change
    Employees need to relate to their leaders before facing the challenges of transforming their values, attitudes and behaviours. This requires leaders to put these relationships at the heart of what they do, building employees' trust by clearly demonstrating their own personal values of benevolence and integrity.

Talking about and questioning the rationale behind transformation with the leaders of change helps people to find the answers to questions about how they will feel, who they will be and what their job will be like in the new organisation. In engaging in this dialogue, they are actually starting to engage in the change itself.

Senior leaders also need to recognise the critical role of dialogue between themselves and middle managers, given the crucial role that local middle managers play. Getting these middle managers on board, by listening and acknowledging their concerns and issues, is essential for senior executives if they are to avoid the risk that these middle managers may 'jump into the trenches' with the troops.

We know that many organisations are starting to invest more in OD resources as we leave the brunt of the recession behind us. But, it appears there's a gap between the latest thinking on change management and current practice that could hold these organisations back. With the increasingly unpredictable nature of the modern workplace, it's becoming ever more important that existing models reflect current business realities and this framework helps to plug the gap.

A copy of the report can be downloaded from the CIPD site at: Landing transformational change

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