Many employees would recognise this as a description of their
organisation. They have survived numerous reorganisations, frequent
changes of leadership, the adoption of different working practises ,
the imposition of new terms and conditions of employment , the
introduction of the latest technology, the outsourcing of production
and the bringing it back in-house and yet they feel nothing has really
changed. All that happens is the changes occur with greater frequency.
They do not feel any more empowered or more valued, they do not feel
the organisation is less risk adverse or more receptive to innovation,
they do not feel more secure or more positive about senior management.
A true transformation of an organisation has to address all the issues
not just the ones that are easiest to change.
My first experience of managing change was when I was responsible
for a group of large, 60 bed residential care homes for older people.
I found that staff started putting residents to bed as early as 6
pm in order that all the residents were in bed before the night staff
came on duty at 10 pm. They did this to help the night staff out
because there was only 2 staff on at night. In return the night staff
would start getting residents up and dressed at 5 in the morning in
order that all the residents were up by the time the day shift came
on at 8 am. Thus allowing all the residents to be down stairs in the
dinning room for breakfast and the drugs round no latter than 9am.
This was just one example of how these residential care homes
were being run for the convenience of staff rather than the needs of
residents. Things had to change. I held a staff meeting for the whole
staff group. I stated that residents should be able to go to bed when
they wanted and get up when they wanted irrespective of needing help
to dress and wash. This meant breakfast should be available all
morning ( cooked breakfast available to 10 am continental till lunch
time). I challenged the staff not to agree that this was better for
residents, who after all were all elderly and should be able to have a
lie in if they wanted.
I look back on this now and think how much easier it was to bring
about changes in the way employees worked when you could demonstrate
it would improve the service. In this case make a small improvement
in the quality of life of frail elderly people. In latter years when
managing change was about improving efficiency or cutting costs it
was much harder to take employees with me.
In bringing about changes in routines I wasn’t simply changing
the time residents got up or went to bed I was taking the first steps
in changing the culture. All too often organisation’s put most effort
into changing the structures and routines, the working practices and
then find the transformation has failed, not that things didn’t change
but that they didn’t make the difference there were supposed to.
Transforming an organisation is a lot more difficult than
reorganising teams, reengineering processes , changing JD’s and terms
and conditions of employment, introducing new technology or
The transformation I was seeking in the residential care homes
was to turn warehouses where elderly people waited to die into places
where old age could be enjoyed rather than endured. To achieve this
staff would have to view residents as individuals , show them
respect, allow them to retain their dignity and independence and
exercise choice. I needed to change the way things were done round
here, in other words change the culture.
Transforming an organisation as opposed to a group of residential
care homes is a huge difference in scale and complexity but is never
the less still about the people part of change and helping people make
change stick. This help or management of change is essential because
all too often change initiatives fail, not that change doesn’t happen
but that it doesn’t deliver the expected and desired outcomes. The
merger that doesn’t deliver the expected economies of scale, the
outsourcing of production that doesn’t generate the hoped for cost
savings, the new technology that fails to improve efficiency, the
restructuring that disrupts and demoralises rather than streamlines
A leader wishing to transform an organisation needs to take
people with them , inspire, over communicate , have a clear set of
values, develop trust, know when to change your mind , admit mistakes,
listen to others but be decisive. It’s easier to communicate with
employees when you can get the whole staff group in one room, when you
can provide face to face contact on a regular bases, when you can talk
about values as they apply to the specific work of a group of
employees like those in the residential care home. When the
organisation consists of thousands of employees, geographically
dispersed and made up of teams providing a wide range of services then
tailoring the message to different audiences, winning hearts and
minds, demonstrating you are actively listening and getting employees
to trust senior management is difficult.
Many organisations post pandemic will find themselves in
agreement that change must happen, the organisation must adapt to the
new economic and business climate if it is to have a future. The
leadership will be/ is under pressure to respond to the urgency of the
situation. The temptation is to act fast, the circumstances justifying
dispensing with trying to sell unpopular changes. Instead change is
impose on a reluctant and suspicious workforce. However two out of
three change initiatives fail not due to a flawed strategy but a
failure to change the culture in line with the strategy. The simple
lesson is you can’t transform an organisation armed only with a good strategy.
An organisation can change structures, processes and working
practices, it can change JD’s and terms and conditions of employment
but ultimately it’s the commitment of employees and the faith/trust
they have in management/ leadership that makes the difference.
Blair Mcpherson former Director, author and blogger www.blairmcpherson.co.uk