CitationDownload as .RIS
Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2003, MCB UP Limited
Last month my organisation got a new chief executive. Only time will tell whether he will be successful. (Actually, I think I could write an entire editorial on the nature of success – but you are probably relieved that I am not going to!)
This piece is about change. I consider the productivity profession to be one of change – those involved in work study, systems design, operational research, etc. are really change agents. Though they may have a range of "technical" and "analytical" skills, the most important ones they possess are the people skills that enable them to carry their ideas through from conception to implementation, often against substantial resistance. One therefore assumes (always a dangerous thing to do) that such folk are flexible, adaptable, responsive, etc. Well, currently I am being put to the test.
Our new chief executive has come in with a questioning rather than critical attitude. He is not saying, "Do not do it like that" but rather "Why do you do it like that?" So far, so good. Having asked the same question so many times in my career, I cannot really complain if someone asks it of me.
The less straightforward aspects centre on his "initiatives". He has made a number of changes (mostly minor, but occasionally major) based on his past experience and on his particular, personal approach to issues such as marketing.
I do have some difficulty with this. It can be argued that a new leader has the right – perhaps even the responsibility – to quickly stamp his personality – and values – on the organisation. However, I come back to the issue of resistance to change. Change is often painful – even if the pain is necessary. This may be simply because it renders less valuable activity that has formed a major component of someone's job for some period. Taking people along with change may be slow – it demands considerable thought and effort. But if you can take people along, the change is much more likely to be sustainable, and future change is likely to be less painful since it is more likely to be based on established mutual trust.
Bulldozing change through against obvious, or covert, resistance is sometimes necessary. However, it is a risky strategy since those resisting the change may adopt forms of guerrilla warfare to undermine the new working arrangements. A change which does not work is certainly worse than no change – since the very fact that it does not work undermines the authority of the person responsible. Subsequent change initiatives themselves become less likely to succeed.
So, now "the boot is on the other foot", have I just changed my tune? (Sorry about the number and quality of the metaphors!) I hope not. I hope that I am approaching this situation with an open, enquiring mind informed by my knowledge and experience of the ways in which people react and respond to changes introduced to their working lives. That is what I have always tried to do as a change agent; that is what I hope to do as a change victim.