People Centred Change

The purpose of this module is to give you an understanding of the process of Change and how a People Centred approach can help employees at all levels embrace Change. It also provides the majority of information that you will need for your presentation topic. As you work through this section, please think of a change initiative you have experienced in the past and focus on the seven bullet points in the section content, that provide a framework for critical analysis of a change initiative. Each question points to something that may have been done well, badly or not at all in the initiative you’ve chosen. Once you’ve worked through these points, consider whether your answers affected the success or otherwise of the initiative. You will be able to record your thoughts in the Learning Log question and Reflection Note at the end, but you may find it useful to write down the key points as you work through the content.

Here are two alternative views of change:

People hate change: they like what they know.
Change is empowering: it’s a chance to get rid of frustrations
and an opportunity for personal development.

Which is true for you? It’s certainly worth remembering that, according to several studies, 70%+ of change initiatives fail, often because they don’t secure the active participation of employees and other key stakeholders. When change is imposed from the top, it is at high risk of missing the insights, knowledge and ideas that could ensure its success. It is also likely to create resistance and disengagement.

Successful change can be inspired from the top while unleashing the ideas and experience of the workforce. Equally it can begin with an accumulation of ideas generated by teams or through employee-led innovation forums; either way it combines the strategic insights of senior teams with the tacit knowledge of empowered employees at all levels.

There is no common blueprint for successful change. Each company undertakes its own individual journey of exploration and discovery, trial and error, experimentation and learning, before eventually arriving at an approach which reflects its own specific context and aspirations. Yet we can identify several strands that are interwoven through many successful change journeys. The People-Centred Change concept was first created in 2009 by Rosemary Exton and Peter Totterdill at the request of the Irish Business & Employers Confederation (IBEC), and has since been refined and developed by an international team of workplace innovation experts. It draws from a wide body of evidence and experience, all of which points to the importance of inclusive dialogue designed to generate critical insights and commitment from the workforce and other stakeholders.

Several modules in this Programme describe specific workplace practices that lead to high performance, capacity for innovation and quality of working lives. People-Centred Change focuses on the process of introducing, contextualising and embedding these workplace innovation practices within an organisation. Whether or not you are starting with the Workplace Innovation Diagnostic® results, it guides you through the specific actions that need to be in place in order to create and deliver effective change through workplace innovation.

From here to there

Change leaders are often in a hurry. The goal is there, they just need to identify and implement the right actions to get the result. A successful outcome will look great on the CV and they can claim it all as their own work.

Goal ⟶ Action ⟶ Result

Except that life is rarely that simple, not least when change involves people. Here are some questions that challenge such a one-dimensional linear approach to Action Planning:

  • Has the wider context been fully analysed and understood before the goal was set? Does it reflect (for example) emerging market trends and opportunities, customers, competition, technological potential and social factors?
  • Is the goal aligned to a common vision shared with employees and other stakeholders? Change seen to contribute to values and strategic outcomes understood and embraced by others is more likely to win acceptance and active engagement.
  • Has the search for actions been sufficiently broad and creative? This is an opportunity for fresh thinking. Why rush to the obvious solution when more powerful options may be available?
  • Did the force of the better argument prevail? Change is usually strengthened by open and inclusive dialogue, and a real willingness to accept that senior people may not have the best answers.
  • Is there room for experimentation? Set the direction of travel up front but allow those involved in change the latitude to use their discretion, test alternatives and generate learning from both successes and failures.
  • How do we know if it’s working? Measure progress against predefined milestones and indicators, but also ensure feedback from people at every level about what’s working, what isn’t and what can be improved. Keep everything under review – how change is being delivered, the actions chosen to implement the goal and even the goal itself – and always be prepared to rethink and redo.
  • How do we keep it working? Recognise that workplace innovation isn’t a one-off process. Each phase of workplace innovation generates shared learning and extends the horizon of possibilities, creating a sustainable momentum in which continual hunger for better ways of working permeates everyone’s job. Remember that workplace innovation is also a system of mutually reinforcing parts. When organisational practices are all pulling in the same direction, it not only leads to remarkable results but also helps to prevent the ‘innovation decay’ that happens when new ways of working are at odds with older, interdependent practices.

Thinking about these challenges leads us to a more sophisticated way of seeing change leadership:

Together, the five activities represented in the figure address each of the challenges raised in the previous section. Note that, because workplace innovation is a continuing process, each activity is connected to all the others by the star polygon because they don’t necessarily follow one after the other – Absorptiveness, for example, is a continuous activity which will inform Monitoring & Reviewing with insights into changes in the external environment.

Although change isn’t a simple linear process, successful workplace innovation is likely to follow several steps, perhaps in sequence. The following sections explore the steps involved in each of the five activities outlined above before taking a look at the People-Centred Change process as a whole.

People-Centred Change focuses on unleashing the knowledge, skills and creativity of everyone in the workforce to help build a more productive, innovative organisation and healthier, engaging working lives. The approach is therefore closely related to many of the workplace practices described by The Essential Fifth Element, and the following sections should be read alongside the following modules:

Employees trusted to exercise autonomy and discretion in day-to-day work, including problem-solving and regular opportunities to face fresh challenges, are more likely to contribute positive ideas for change and embrace new ways of working. Likewise self-organised teams can be positive contributors to change, especially when they already take responsibility for continuous improvement. The Jobs, Teams & Technology module offers further insight.
The Employee-Driven Improvement and Innovation module emphasises the importance of workforce knowledge and creativity in enhancing and developing products, services and processes. The Employee-Driven Improvement and Innovation module explores practical ways in which employee ideas can be captured and utilised in organisational change processes, enhancing buy-in and reducing resistance.
The Structures, Management and Processes module shows how management behaviours and performance expectations exert major influences on employees’ willingness and ability to engage positively with change; they must therefore be considered closely alongside the Engagement and Empowerment aspects of People-Centred Change. Likewise organisational walls and ceilings may inhibit cross-functional generation of shared visions and ideas for change.
Employee Voice, especially when channelled through representative employee forums, can be a powerful resource within the Engagement and Empowerment aspects of People-Centred Change. The Co-Created Leadership & Employee Voice module explores how employee voice can be stimulated and used as a positive resource for change.

Forum topic: Why, in your experience inside or outside the workplace, do people resist change? And what encourages them to embrace it?

Click here to share your ideas and experiences.


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