Change Management Masterclass – Al Shah’s Key learnings

Guest blogger:

Al Shah, Alumni Advisory Board member and MBA alum, attended the recent change management masterclass and shares the key learnings stimulated by speakers of the day.

  • Change management cannot be formulaic
  • We focus on changing the non-discretionary
  • We communicate the change from our perspective only which can convey badly
  • Even the pace of change was challenged by the brilliant speakers of the day

The interview with Cisco’s UK & Ireland CEO, Phil Smith, focused on the constant change affecting a company that acquires others so frequently.  Phil endorsed David Wilson’s notion of Discretionary behaviours (i.e. those not directly or explicitly recognised by the formal reward system) in the change process and how implementation affected staff morale following change.  Throughout their major change initiatives, morale rose but not in year one! The key learning being that long term strategies are required and therefore the organisation, and individual managers must allow sufficient time for change in behaviours, an early conclusion that change has not been effective can lead to ‘fish tailing’ and more initiatives kicking off.

Phil said that the change process cannot be formulaic, at any one time they have 5-6 change initiatives on the go and differ significantly enough that following a formula proves impossible.

Change programmes may have additional, unforeseen benefits, for example in Cisco’s example, video conferencing implemented to save travel costs (saving $1/2 bn and 80k ton carbon) led to greater engagement and agility as Cisco replaced quarterly 2 day on-site conferences with monthly one hour sessions.

Later the panel of speakers was asked to predict the future: what will change management look like in 20 years?  They explained the same human issues will exist but present in a different way. The shorter attention span and speed of expectancy will demand a greater focus on the essence of the change and not the detail.

This was in tune with the learning from Professor Brian Smith, whose research showed most change is non-discretionary and this needed to change to discretionary to stop failing strategy. The implementation of strategy required a commitment to the Organisation over a Group – displacing team spirit with affective commitment to the Organisation, favour projects over matrix structure moving away from consensus and towards consultation and decision and focus on Discretionary change SMART goals.  The message was to keep a clear and connected, holistic view with a guiding principle of focusing on the essence of change and not the detail.

Ben Hardy gave an insightful (and irreverent!) session on communicating change, that emphasised how our own bias is applied to what we read and write; we have to communicate to avoid employees/colleagues filling the blanks and that we are built to focus on negative information thus making it 3x more impactful than positive information.

In conclusion, the day provided multiple perspectives on change management, highlighting that implementation truly is the acid test of strategy.

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