Change is something I used to think of in the context of big projects: a new project, re-organisations, or big changes in strategic priorities. I’ve been involved in change at work, both as the manager of the change and as one of those affected. What I have realised is that change is ever-present to some degree, and that managing the process, its outcomes and its effects on the team are critical to an organisation’s health and longevity. It’s also a scary thing which can lead to uncertainty and nervousness among staff, even a small thing like change in the team can lead to disruption.
‘But we just do the same stuff over and over again’
Do you? In recent years charities have had to deal with, and work in, an ever-changing landscape where grant funds have reduced, funding priorities have changed, and there has been a greater movement toward providing contracted work or commissions to ensure financial viability. In that landscape, I know charities have changed the way they work, taken on new projects and ways of working or taken part in mergers to ensure survival in a harsh economic environment.
All of this has involved a lot more demand on the time of staff; there has been demands to learn new skills, ways of working, inculcate new processes and do the ‘normal work’ at the same time. In that context, there has been a lot of new learning across the sector, frequently with time pressures and with little pause for breath.
‘But that’s just what you do at work, isn’t it?’
It may well be the norm now, to be in an organisation where priorities are frequently changing in response to a strategic change or need but consider the effects on a staff team which may already be demoralised as the climate is harder, as they are being asked to do more and more. Managing change is a critical component of management. You have to know your team: understand their capabilities, their tolerances, and their motivations. Generally, even with the best goodwill, people can only absorb so much change, work on so many diverse priorities before something gives, and purely on a human level, we never want to drive colleagues to the point of breaking under the weight of what they are being asked to do.
At some point, teams have to be allowed to just get on with work; a stressed and under pressure team, will retreat to what they know, and where they most comfortable. Allow this, row back on the pressure, with some flexibility you can still achieve the desired outcomes, and your team won’t be worn out.
‘Is it the change we need?’
A key stage of any change process is building in points to assess if the process is still worthwhile. Some organisations get so far involved and invested in a process of change that they forget to assess if it is producing the planned/required results, and if it is worth persevering with? Stopping and saying, ‘this isn’t what we anticipated, let’s stop’ is a brave, but sometimes necessary thing to do. Far better to acknowledge that and revise than persist to a negative consequence.
While constant change is a stressful time for those managing it, and for those going through it, it’s a vital part of organisational strategy. In these times of economic harshness, and shrinking resources, an organisation that doesn’t respond and change is going to struggle. The challenge for those managing the process is to ensure that it is achievable, fair and an acceptable demand on already pressured teams.