The way we understand organizational change has evolved over the past years. For a long time, organizational change was understood as a restructuring process, where whole business units were cut back, acquired or redesigned. Often, those changes were happening out of the necessity to survive and seen as the last chance for a company to overcome a severe economic crisis. In those days, the way change management was executed is comparable with a military operation. Targets were defined, external experts and consultants recruited and the operation run with the mantra:
There was almost no cooperation with the local workforce, no exchange about what needed to be retained from the existing company culture and structure and no knowledge exchange with internal experts. Even though this method usually ensured the quick delivery of improving KPIs and was therefore well accepted among shareholders, there always have been damaging long-term side-effects for the organization.
Think of the military example. If external forces enter a foreign country and start implementing changes based on their own experiences, only considering the interests of the local government, there will be conflicts with the local citizens. Even though some people will be open for change, the first reaction of the majority will be anxiety: they don’t know what’s going on and are afraid to lose the control of their livelihood. The problem is, that fear is paralyzing but you will need the employees to keep up their work and help the change agents to realize all new implementations. Change, which is seen as a top – down measure, will experience huge friction losses and missing commitment from the organization itself.
Another problem of this approach is the missing implementation of an innovative company culture. If change is experienced as the last resort in a predicament and connected to fear and negative experiences, employees will avoid initiating change themselves. They will hold their breath, happy to simply have survived the last change initiative and won’t be eager to provoke a new situation of uncertainty.
Today, we established a new understanding of change and change management, which is fueled by the need for incremental innovation. Companies integrate change into their business model, opening up their own innovative hubs within their organizations, encouraging critical opinions of their status quo and a culture of idea exchange. The revolution of change happened as a result of our accelerated markets and disruptive innovations, which have the power to change a whole industry within the blink of an eye.
Comparing the “old” perspective on change with our current understanding, is especially interesting from my point of view as the Managing Director of a consultancy, who is looking back at more than 8 years of consulting-experience. When it comes to change management, many companies still use external experts and consultants for support and in my opinion, that’s a smart move. As an external person, the organization will profit from a fresh perspective, a set of proven measures, additional capacity and the possibility to bypass internal and personal conflicts. In addition, the presence of a consultant in a project will increase its perceived importance, prioritization and drive among the internal employees. But problem occurs when the hired consultancies haven’t adapted their way of working to the new and needed understanding of change management.
To be able to support an organization in the implementation of change, consultancies need to let go of their military “Get in, implement new structure & get out”-approach. They have to work together with the organization’s employees, to enable them creating a culture of change by themselves.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the aim that employees make decisions like cutting of a business unit by themselves. However, it’s about supporting the organization in driving their changes themselves and generating sustainable learning effects among their employees, so they will be more open to initiate change themselves in the future. A good consultant will help employees to gain those learning experiences by being by their side in difficult and new situations, providing them with guidance, backing and security.
If a company establishes a positive attitude towards change among their employees, drastic measures like mass dismissal and the cutting off of whole business units might not even occur. The idea is to establish an openness to incremental change and to drive innovation from inside the organization. If a company establishes this understanding among their employees and creates a culture of change, the business model transferrers from a fixed into a fluid state, which enables the organization to adapt in time to market changes.
But let’s come back to the consultancy perspective. The question is: how can consultants create a positive attitude towards change among their client’s employees? When I founded TTE in 2015, my idea was to offer an integrated consultancy concept. In the past years, my team and I have run various projects where our consultants and our client’s employees formed one joint team. The feedback on our method was great: our integrative approach increased the internal motivation to drive the change, we experienced a new openness to share their own ideas about the projects among the workforce and the outcome were solution, which had the commitment of the internal stakeholders.
To sum it up: Our understanding of change has changed. Companies rather have to establish a culture of openness for incremental change, rather than seeing change management as a last resort. To support organization on their way, we need to rethink our understanding of consultancy, too. We have to let go of the “old-school” military consulting approach and start working integrative, enabling companies in driving change from inside. If you would like to know more about our integrative approach and how we understand consulting, get in touch with us! Just contact me directly via LinkedIn or mail firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a call +49 (0)40 699 19 799.
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