Girish Menon: Imperatives for change

The lessons we must learn about change processes

Girish Menon
Girish Menon

In a career of three decades and more, one of the things I have realised is that there is nothing like a "stable period". There is always change.

What might be different is the magnitude or scale of change, the pace of it and our ability to adapt to the change. But then, as has been said several times, change is the only constant.

It is natural to resist change or expect resistance to change from others. It pushes us into unknown territory with potential consequences that cause anxiety.

However, that is not reason enough not to contemplate change if that is what the organisation needs. And even if we don’t want change, the fast-changing external environment means we must keep up to be relevant.

Each time I have been involved with change processes, I have realised that each one is different and distinctive – there is never a perfect plan. That is the nature of "change management". What can be done is to foresee how change can affect people and organisations, and aim to leverage opportunities while mitigating risks. Here are some lessons I have learnt.

Acknowledge that change can be destabilising

There could be strong internal or external imperatives and there could be great appetite for change, but recognise that not all colleagues will feel the same. There are often concerns about change processes being destabilising. Acknowledge that and try to find out as much as possible.

Be clear on the imperatives for change

Given the fast-changing environment we are in, and the particular pressures our sector faces, it is not unusual for there to be more than one imperative for change, whether strategic, financial or technological. The clearer the leadership is about this imperative, the better it is to build a compelling narrative around it. This is important in order to get engagement from the board, staff, supporters, partners and other stakeholders.

Regular check-ins and communication

This applies to all organisations irrespective of size, but it does become more complex in larger ones. Creating spaces for staff and other stakeholders helps demonstrate the leadership’s willingness to listen and engage. It is also important to recognise that different people take in communications differently whether it is face-to-face, written feedback or through representatives, for example. The more diverse an organisation is, the more deeply one needs to think of the best possible means of communication.

Closing the feedback loop

A key purpose of engaging with staff and stakeholders is to get their inputs and insights. To maintain the integrity of the process, this loop should be closed with some form of feedback to demonstrate clarity on how the inputs provided have been taken on board and factored into the final set of decisions taken.

Plan for delays

I wonder if any change process has gone absolutely to plan without some time and even cost overruns. A lesson to be learnt from that is to ensure that we do not cut corners with resources allocated and that there is enough contingency factored in, especially if the process is designed to be consultative and engaging rather than being entirely driven top-down.

Reflection and review

The sign of a change process that maintains integrity is going back to those who were engaged with some form of a structured or semi-structured review to reflect on the process, highlight what went well and what didn’t, and elicit thoughts that will provide invaluable learning for future processes.

So, a final thought – change is inevitable, so let us just face it and be prepared to embrace it. That is the only way we can ensure that change processes do not overwhelm us and that we are in control of factors that will ensure its effectiveness.

Girish Menon is chief executive of ActionAid UK

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