Reinforcing new culture while maintaining workplace changes | Daily News
Leading your flock into greener pastures – Part 28

Reinforcing new culture while maintaining workplace changes

Successful leaders manage to mix a variety of characteristics. They need to be authentic as a leader (as we discussed earlier) and act decisively, boldly and with conviction. They also need to gain the commitment of people to do a task by engaging them so that the task becomes meaningful, important and worthwhile to those involved.

You may think that being bold and decisive while simultaneously engaging people is a contradiction. Well, it isn’t: you can say what you think, and listen attentively to people’s views and opinions, and also work together to create new meanings and insights to solve problems and make changes in the workplace. If you handle a workplace change tactfully and tentatively, you can achieve all the following together:

Be bold about sharing your purpose - what you’re aiming to achieve; and your values - what’s important to you. Engage people in helping to solve problems and shape changes. Be willing to make difficult decisions that are right for the organisation but may adversely affect some people.

To make the change tentative, implement your decision while remaining willing to modify your plan - including the actions and timing of it - in light of people’s reactions. Consider modifying your plan if by doing so people embrace the change, make it happen and sustain the change more effectively.

A caution note: when introducing a workplace change, avoid the following extremes:

Being so forthright that people think or feel that you’re imposing the change on them. Be aware of the implications of people making comments - especially behind your back - such as, ‘It’s pointless arguing with him because he (thinks he) is always right.’

Being so tentative that you appear uncertain or unconvinced that the change is the right thing to do.

Handling resistance to change

People put a lot of effort into promoting and protecting the things that are important to them: that is why some people actively resist a change being introduced into the workplace if the change is going to affect them adversely or they feel they’re being mistreated as to how the change is being introduced.

Don’t be surprised if people ‘dig their heels in’ and push back if you attempt to force them to accept a workplace change that they’re reluctant to accept.

Be positive, empathetic and support people who are reluctant or resistant towards your proposed change. Let us give you some suggestions you can take to help people handle some of the factors causing them to resist, and to enable them to accept and embrace the change you intend to make.

There are 5 typical factors causing people to resist changes: (1) Fear of being exposed as inadequate or incompetent, (2) Fear of the unknown, (3) Loss of status or control, (4) More difficult personal circumstances such as travel arrangements, impact on home life and so on, (5) Unreasonable attitudes and resistance or criticism of changes you want to make procedure.

Now let us discuss about the actions to be taken to address these factors and encourage people to accept the change.

Factor No 1 -- Fear of being exposed as inadequate or incompetent -- Talk through any concerns and fears that people have regarding the proposed change.

Build people’s confidence by emphasising their achievements and competences, especially regarding other changes they’ve experienced. Provide training in the new system or provide as much information as you can.

Factor No 2 -- Fear of the unknown -- Admit when you don’t have all the answers, and commit to keeping people up- to-date as information becomes available.

Factor No 3 -- Loss of status or control --Explore the reason for people holding such views, and acknowledge their concerns. Consider giving people extra responsibilities especially if you can use their talents in other ways. Be honest and frank with people if their position in the organisation is changing, including changes in reporting relationships - and clearly explain the reasons for the change.

Factor No 4 -- More difficult personal circumstances. -- Consider whether other arrangements can be made, at least temporarily, to offset personal difficulties and help the person make the transition to the new working arrangements.

Factor No 5 -- Unreasonable attitudes and resistance or criticism of changes. -- Challenge people who are behaving unreasonably and explain the consequences of them continuing to behave

A note of caution! Listen attentively to people who want to share their objections to a proposed change. You may not want to hear these objections, because they present you with problems that you have to solve, but you need to know about them because they’re going to affect how well people embrace, adopt and carry out your intended change.

Now, we will move in to a new section - Reinforcing a new culture while maintaining your workplace changes

In this instalment and next week, we will discuss how to influence colleagues to sustain your changes, paying attention to what really matters and making the best of a crisis.

Old habits die hard

No doubt you’ve heard the saying, ‘Old habits die hard.’ Well, a frustrated manager may have coined this phrase, when experiencing problems with staff slipping back into old ways of working while he’s trying to transform the culture of his work team. Getting people to change long-held practices is one thing, but you can also experience difficulties when working with staff to sustain the following:

(1) Changes you make to a system or process in the workplace, (2) Positive attitudes towards, enthusiasm for and even the compliance of people with the change you’ve made, especially if the change isn’t working as well as you expected.

While going through these two instalments, you find out how you personally have a major influence on your work colleagues’ enthusiasm and commitment to maintaining a workplace change.

Let us try to understand how to reinforce vital attitudes, behaviours and values - that is, the workplace culture - in order to ensure that your change continues to be a success. You also discover what you need to pay attention to, in order to provide the ‘scaffolding’ to help people sustain the changes you want them to make and keep everyone involved on the right track.

Walking the talk: Leading by Example

By encouraging you to ‘walk the talk’, we are not suggesting that you waste time wandering around generally chatting to staff, but that your behaviour backs up your words. When you’ve implemented a change, we are asking you to do the following:

(1) Demonstrate your commitment to ensuring that the change is a success, by making sure that your actions and behaviour reinforce what you’re saying about the change you’ve made.

(2) Be how you want others to be regarding the change, because ‘being’ is more than ‘doing’: ‘being’ includes how you behave and how you are - that is, your presence - and remaining aware of how you impact on people.

(3) Keep in touch with how the people involved in, and affected by, your change think, feel and are acting as regards the change.

(4) Catch people doing things right! As well as looking out for evidence of problems, also make sure that you spot what people are doing right when adopting a change in the workplace.

You find out how to ‘walk the talk’ to reinforce and embed the attitudes, values and behaviours required to ensure that your change is a success in the next three sections.

Being a visible leader

Face-to-face contact is perhaps the most effective way of influencing someone (or a small group) to sustain a workplace change. In this way you can:

(1) Convey your enthusiasm and conviction to make the change a success directly to the person. (2) Notice the effect that you’re having on the person. (3) Assess the willingness of the person to sustain the change. (4) Listen to and address any on-going or new concerns or objections that person has about the change. (5) Invest in spending your time with, and giving your attention to, people directly involved in making a workplace change.

Typical experience

Shirani is a General Manager in a large medical centre. She recognised the need to change the organisational structure and reorganise the roles and responsibilities of staff in order to optimise the benefits of a new computerised information system for handling patient records.

Shirani explained the purpose of the new system to all staff during group meetings and outlined how it was intended to work. She invested time in speaking to every member of staff to find out their views, skills, hopes and concerns regarding the introduction of the new system. The information she obtained helped her to use the talents of staff and meet many of the preferences that individuals had expressed - although meeting everyone’s requests was impossible.

Shirani then met all individuals to talk through changes in their role and responsibilities and try and fully understand their reaction to the changes. She was responsive to making further amendments in responsibilities if doing so was possible without undermining the structure or losing any of the benefits of the new system.

Shirani regularly met every individual during the first few weeks, and spent more time with the individuals who expressed the most concerns. Although her manager thought that she was wasting time with people, Shirani knew that spending time with each member of staff was a good investment. The new system was adopted without any significant problems being experienced.


(Lionel Wijesiri is a retired company director with over 35 years’ experience in senior business management. Presently he is a business consultant, freelance newspaper columnist and a writer.)

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