Resisting Change – The Managed Or The Managers?

Resisting Change - Who’s Responsible?  Conventional wisdom has it that those for change come from the ranks of senior management and those against it are the ones on the receiving end of management’s plans for reform.

This is over simplistic and in many cases simply not true.  Cultural change is a case in point.

Over the past ten to fifteen years or so, employee surveys, cultural surveys, climate surveys – call them what you will – have become increasingly prevalent as organisations have felt the need to measure their employees’ mood and morale, and their understanding and commitment to their employer’s purpose and strategies. Among the many factors measured, the degree of employee engagement looms high on the list.

The employee’s engagement is usually measured by his or her response to a number of statements concerning the employee’s degree of satisfaction with the organisation for whom he or she works.  Is the employee proud to tell others about their employer?  How often does he or she think about leaving for another organisation etc.

Although naturally results vary widely, there has been some research in recent years, principally by the Gallup Corporation, that shows that employee engagement is at a low ebb. Gallup identified three types of employees.

Engaged – employees work with passion and feel a profound connection to the company.  They drive innovation and move the company forward

Not engaged – employees are essentially “checked-out”.  They’re sleepwalking through their workday, putting time – but not energy and passion – into their work

Actively disengaged – employees aren’t just unhappy at work; they’re busy acting out their unhappiness.  Every day, these workers undermine what their engaged co-workers accomplish

Just 29% of respondents fell into the first category.  The reasons for low engagement levels were given as lack of appreciation for work well done; lack of clear goals and objectives, little sense of community and of feeling “in” on the big picture and last, but by no means least, reluctance of management to communicate, listen and learn.  Does it matter?  It certainly does.  Your staff are your most important asset and my client feedback surveys consistently show that it’s the staff in the lower ranks of the organisation who are very largely responsible for customer satisfaction levels.

Now, here’s the point.  Improving employee engagement is the task of management, not the employees themselves.

It’s poor management that led to unengaged employees, not poor employees.  So it’s management that needs to change and that change starts at the top.

Employee engagement is a highly dependent variable.  It’s last of my list of the five requirements for effective execution, coming after

  1. Organisational alignment,
  2. Management of change,
  3. Leadership and
  4. Teams and teamwork

The first on the list – organisational alignment is defined as follows.

  • Everyone knows where the organisation is now
  • Everyone knows the destination and the journey
  • Everyone knows their role in getting there

The only way in which everyone will know these things is to involve them in the process of determining them.  And that might involve fundamental changes in the management style of senior executives – changes that many executives find extremely hard to make.

The reality is that you cannot expect your employees to change in the absence of clear evidence that senior management is prepared to change as well.  Frankly, what management writes or what management says is of little consequence.  The only thing that really matters is what management do.

So get out of the office, spend a day a month on the frontline of your organisation, engage with your workforce, talk little and ask a lot.  It’s not the whole solution but at least you will learn where the resistance to change lies.


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