Real change management requires more than just changing behavior — it’s dependent upon the critical process of changing the work environment to foster this behavior
At one time or another most companies will be challenged with overcoming a period of slow sales and growth. When companies are operating in a deficit the effects on its people as well as the business as a whole can be dramatic. Fear of redundancy, wage cuts and simply having to do more with less are all common challenges for employees that can lead to high levels of stress and anxiety.
This physical and psychological trauma can prove to be especially problematic as employees operating at capacity for unhealthy periods of time become burnt-out affecting their ability to make good decisions. Mistakes can lead to tensions between teams, bringing people into regular conflict and contributing towards a negative culture. This can often be exacerbated by management who see the problem as one of application rather than strategy.
When a person is under stress, the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in decision-making and executive functions, is less involved in activity. It’s as if it goes “offline.” - Fred Travis, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Brain, Consciousness, and Cognition at Maharishi University of Management.
Fatigue in the workplace is nothing new of course but thanks to scientific evidence our understanding of the effects on people, the businesses they work for and the economy in general, is greatly improved. And so it should. With 1 in 6 people in the UK diagnosed with some form of mental illness and the cost to the health care system in the US estimated to be as high as $190 billion the health of employees should be a regular topic of conversation for leaders, especially those tasked with making businesses profitable where culture has become problematic.
For companies that are in a turnaround situation the temptation to make decisions that influence short-term goals is understandable. One solution often attempted by management in this situation is to generate quick sales by acquiring multiple new customers. This can quickly have the opposite effect on the business however as the increased workload on an already swamped workforce can create further divisions between management and employees - who feel their situation is being ignored.
Shifting management's approach from short-termism to strategic thinking is often, therefore, the first challenge to turning around growth. At a time when building bridges between management and the workforce is just as critical, this juggling act requires leadership with vision but just as importantly requires strong emotional intelligence. Understanding the emotional situation and how to sustain relationships within this environment is essential for any improvement plans to be successful and the empathy shown towards people can start to breed the behaviours and mind-sets required for cultural transformation.
Less is More - bringing the marketing strategy to life
Helping people understand where the business can improve, and their roles within the transformation is an important step in the process. Bringing the customer journey to life through the interpretation of customer data can help management understand where they need to reassign their focus and activity. For businesses spending a lot of time reviewing and administering requests for quotes with low conversion rates, this assessment is critical when looking to generate growth without increasing the customer base.
Coordinating this internal continuous improvement project with a strategic public relations programme to attract targeted customers looking for long-term partnerships can start to generate leads which support the internal culture shift. As the business gets better at assigning resources to strategic opportunities conversions increase and the success this brings starts to ripple through the business. Administrators and logistics can start to plan ahead rather than playing catch up, manufacturing can focus on quality, not just delivery and HR can plan training programmes to support the increased demand for skills.
Real change management requires more than just changing behavior — it’s dependent upon the critical process of changing the work environment to foster this behavior. - Leading Organisational Change, Wharton University of Pennsylvania
Making It Stick
Making this cultural shift is all well and good but getting it to stick is a different matter. Without a clear change in processes and procedures, people can soon find themselves slipping back into old habits. In a world full of BIG-DATA knowing how to capture and analyze key statistics is critical if you plan to use this data to initiate change. Again, the customer journey becomes essential in helping the business make better decisions about where to invest their time and how best to improve services to customers.
Streamlining the business in this inclusive manner keeps the channels of communication open and as people feel connected to the changes being implemented ownership becomes a formality. As change emerges people's stress and anxiety is reduced helping to ease former tensions and further facilitating good decision making.
Making culture tangible
With the shift in culture and customer base leading to increased revenues and profits the opportunity for management to review their financial schemes are presented. New profit-related pay schemes that provide the fair distribution of profits can make the cultural transformation ‘real’ for all involved. This can have the added benefit of creating brand ambassadors in the form of employees who contribute to the enhanced reputation of the company.
As the culture becomes ingrained and the workforce witness first hand the benefits of the improvements, the environment becomes more conducive to sustainable mental health. This not only benefits the people directly involved in the business but has a far wider reaching impact on society. This socially responsible approach towards growth in a turnaround environment is a humane solution that puts people first and reaps the financial benefits, as a result, helping to generate a happier, healthier and financially rewarding business for all to enjoy.