Breaking bad: Are you approaching change management the right way?

Maintaining business success is impossible without change.

Whether it’s advancing technologies, shifting market conditions or a stuttering economy, there are many factors that can make or break an organisation in today’s rapidly evolving commercial landscape.

However, many leaders are guilty of a common misstep when approaching a change management project. They fail to identify and eliminate negative behaviours in the workplace.

While senior executives are keen to spread best practices and streamline existing processes, these efforts are often undermined by destructive influences.

An expanding body of research is showing that the first step in any change management project should be to curtail these damaging factors before embarking on organisational improvements.

The good, the bad and the ugly

Effective change management can achieve excellent results, but CEOs may need to dig deep and uproot legacy issues that are contributing to disharmony.

This can be an ugly process, and can even highlight failings at the upper echelons of management. Behaviours such as jealousy, laziness, dishonesty and fear are not only destructive at an individual level, they can spread like wildfire through an organisation.

A recent American Management Association study showed colleagues heavily resent employees who dodge their duties. Furthermore, nearly 70 per cent of respondents claimed this laziness damaged overall performance.

What is more worrying for senior executives is that 44 per cent of respondents said it diminishes engagement in the workplace. Half said it reflected a lack of shared responsibility.

Sandi Edwards, senior vice-president for AMA Enterprise, said: “Employees understandably become resentful when they see co-workers shirking responsibility without accountability – in such a situation, organisational morale and, ultimately, performance cannot help suffering.

“A culture that tolerates ‘passing the buck’ alienates those employees who give everything to their job on a daily basis. A few shirkers can snowball until the dominant culture becomes one of risk and responsibility aversion.”

These types of working environment spell bad news for any business implementing a change management project.

Ways to stop the rot

Once you have decided to target negative influences, there are several ways of breaking bad habits and promoting a positive atmosphere in the workplace.

This may involve dealing with problem employees, revitalising out-dated processes or re-adjusting unrealistic expectations. Here are three tips for approaching change management the right way.

1. DO sweat the small stuff

Even relatively minor problems can become major headaches if left to fester, as the “broken windows” theory suggests.

This popular proposition put forward by criminologist George Kelling and political scientist James Wilson in 1982 suggested that in neighbourhoods where a single window on a building is left unrepaired, other broken windows and structural damage soon follow.

The idea is that even a small unresolved issue indicates a lack of care and attention, eventually leading to widespread apathy and escalating destructive behaviour. The premise has been supported by several studies.

Business leaders should take note. Identifying small, yet persistent problems within your organisation can drastically improve productivity, boost morale and keep workers engaged and motivated for change.

2. Separate bad apples

Every company has bad apples and if your business is big enough there could be several. As a CEO or director, the temptation may be to leave the task of dealing with disruptive employees to line managers or department heads.

However, what if the problem is company-wide or involves the line managers themselves? Coming up with a solution may require a cross-departmental strategy that is outside the scope and responsibility of individual managers.

One approach is to collect all of your bad apples into one or multiple teams and assign them new leaders. There is likely to be a few big personalities involved, so they will need to be headed by strong managers who are up to the challenge.

Channelling their negative energy towards a common goal could have surprisingly beneficial outcomes. Even if a team continues to underperform, the damage will be limited to one area and other employees won’t be affected.

3. Build an effective change management team

Who you assign to a change management team is vital. The leader of this team needs to be high in the organisation to indicate the importance associated with the task.

However, seniority is not the only factor. They must also be well respected and have a good relationship with employees who, ultimately, are the driving force behind effective change management.

Getting popular staff members on side with a change initiative can drastically improve its chance of success. But recognising these employees can be difficult for directors who have little contact with personnel outside of senior management.

CEOs and directors should take the time to do research, improve communication and be objective when building the best change management team.