The need to manage change has become a prime challenge for organisations as we draw towards the end of the twentieth century and, without going into all the reasons for this state of affairs, is likely to remain a prime challenge into the foreseeable future. Thus it was of great interest that five of the companies in the study had undergone major change calling for widespread organisational readjustment in respect of business objectives, values and working practices.
Drivers of Change
Company transformation or system wide change typically derives energy from a number of sources. Some of these sources may be external and related to market conditions and competitiveness issues. Other sources which are more important in the case of this study are internal and included the following:
1. The presence in these companies of a committed cohesive group of senior managers dissatisfied with the status quo and willing to think about a different and better future and to work towards realising this future. This happened in some cases with the advent of new members to the management team but in other cases from existing management seeing an opportunity to capture business in the event of their getting their act together.
2. Establishment of clear change goals at the outset so as to focus efforts and to create a benchmark against which to assess progress. Some companies also sought to create external benchmarks and as part of the process brought employees from all levels to visit relevant companies both in Ireland and overseas to examine practices and results in comparable situations to their own. This in itself of course helped to create an outward-looking orientation on the part of employees and to bring into the picture issues of internal co-operation and teamwork in developing and sustaining competitive advantage. Thus in these companies management handled change through carefully setting the change agenda, careful and detailed planning and assessment of change initiatives and openness to feedback.
3. Being able to visualize what the changed state would be like and being able to describe this in detail cannot be over-emphasised as a determinant of successful change. In one company a new management team spent up to six months developing a strategy for how the company was going to be managed, considering in the process what kind of company they wanted to create and working to get a common view among themselves in this regard. The kind of company they set about creating at the end of this process was based on five core principles with emphases on -
(a)Total Quality by which was meant continuous improvement in the way things were done across the total manufacturing operation with measurable goals in place.
(b)Total involvement by which was meant that the whole plant was to be enrolled with everybody contributing to the team effort. Mechanisms were put in place to achieve this and interestingly these mechanisms initially did not work as well as expected leading to further rethinking and revision. Uniquely this company put in place a communications/negotiation council which played a central role in the change process.
(c)Management by facts rather than by intuition and gut-feeling. Interestingly another company had this emphasis as one of its core values extending it to mean that management by facts precluded staff using personal attacks or position power alone to carry the day.
(e)Emphasis on Health and Safety, which meant continually improving the environment through the permanent reduction of unhealthy and unsafe practices and hazards.
(f)Clear objectives with a premium placed on people knowing what was expected of them and on clarity in requests, instructions, communications and meetings.
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