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world of Change2020

7 Change-Cheaters

Maintaining Focus Despite Repeated Cycles of Organisational Changes

Many readers will appreciate that it is often not the subject of a change which presents the greatest challenge; rather the cultural impacts which are likely to occur as a result of the change. Repeated cycles of change have been the norm for many years in Australian businesses, with strong and decisive leadership essential to sustain motivation and focus. Here are my tips for keeping positive and resilient during challenging periods:

  1. Understand the change has a finite timeframe and the feeling of unrest will not last forever. Most change in organisations involves transitioning to a new situation, whether it be the result of a new structure, process or system. Projects like these may have to factor in initially unforeseen challenges, but this is common in change management and necessitates additional planning – it is generally not a crisis.
  2. Find yourself a ‘buddy’ who is normally a bit upbeat and seems to have a glass half full – spend time listening to the other side of the story. Objectivity is essential during periods of change, particularly difficult times. Talking issues through with others helps to keep things in perspective. A buddy builds a base of trust through which problems can be questioned and emotional responses kept in check.
  3. Keep yourself informed, ask questions, be curious – being informed can help to minimise the negative rumours which will undoubtedly surface during the change. Don’t bury your head in the sand or get overly focused on the minutiae of a situation. Ask questions and seek clarification from your leaders throughout the change process. Take the time to read the communications as they are issued and ensure you attend meetings and gatherings where updates will be shared. Also, if you have a question, the chances are high that your peers also have these questions – it is ok to ask, if not, you will be none the wiser!
  4. Your wellbeing is important – look after yourself so stress is an unlikely visitor. Understand where you derive your personal energy from and ensure that you incorporate this into your daily routine; encourage the same for others. Work smart, ensuring that you find downtime in order to reflect, as this will help you to sustain the pace.
  5. Make a clear decision to stay away from the ‘black hatters’, avoid the rumours and gossip and make a stance to not become involved in the negativity. Personal accountability at work is essential; be involved in the change process through observation and engagement in order to ensure that you have the facts. Don’t rely on assumptions, rumour and innuendo. Be brave, when you hear the negativity, challenge it!
  6. Get involved in the change – let leaders know that you can play a role (it keeps you informed and it demonstrates keenness to be a part of the future state). The cycle of change is constant, even if a specific project has a finite beginning and end date. Adapting to new circumstances and anticipating future states is part of taking ownership of your role and input to the organisation. Change brings both learning and opportunity in different ways and it can be fulfilling to have shared a journey with others, as well as developing good skills for the future. Nominate yourself for a role in the change program, request an opportunity to be mentored by a change leader or offer to help out where extra arms, legs and ideas are needed.
  7. Simply choose to be positive, honestly, it works – aim to engage with others, work towards a satisfying workplace and recognise that change is a part of what we experience every day. Whatever stage of your career, maintaining a positive mental attitude is paramount to professional and personal success. Work and change go hand-in-hand and as the saying goes, ‘you get what you give’. Attitude is a choice and it is important to focus on remaining positive. Fighting an inevitable change is exhausting and almost always a waste of time and effort – find the opportunity in the change and make it work for you!

Remember that the world of work has changed so much in 20 years, due to both significant external and internal elements, that we now live in a permanent state of transition – and this actually breeds exciting opportunities for innovation and advancement. Our own experience in this journey takes self-awareness, effort and focus in order to intellectually and personally ensure that we can keep perspective and positivity.

It is your choice how you respond to change!

 

The Merry-Go-Round of Middle Management

I have a hunch that it is unpopular or perhaps risky to be in a middle management role. When the squeeze is on, the middle layer is often the first to go, and when times are buoyant the accolades and gratitude are aimed at the executive leadership team.

To expand on this point I was recently speaking with a client in the utilities sector and he told me that he is one of 14 direct reports to his manager. “Fourteen!” I exclaimed. He said, “Well it has improved, when I joined he had 21!” I challenged him on this but he was able to take me through the structure role by role and it was clear he was telling the truth. I asked what sort of relationship he had with his leader and he replied “I leave him alone. I am capable and like my autonomy – and he has enough squeaky wheels to deal with!” We then discussed his career ambitions and, while not striving for the top job, he is certainly keen to move beyond his current level. I asked him how he was going to get there – sadly “I have no idea” was the response; “They expect us to be great at our jobs, bring in the projects on time, keep our customers happy and avoid conflict with the subbies – but we are not shown the way in terms of our career path.”

This started me thinking over the challenges of being in middle management. How do you get beyond that level if investment is low? Or what if your role is made redundant and, when you apply for your next role, you are considered still to be middle management as you are yet to perform at senior or executive leadership level?

The phrase ‘war for talent’ has gained much significance during the past 15 years and there has been a tendency to focus on retaining high performers or top executives within this debate. However, recent research has called this into question. In a recent global survey of HR professionals by KPMG 59% of respondents agreed that there was a new war for talent and that war is different than in the past. The research finds that addressing skills shortages is a higher priority now than two years ago – and will become critical in the next two years. It states that skill shortages appear likely to increase as globalisation and competitive pressures take hold across sectors and industries and improving economic conditions spur employees to seek new jobs. Notably the findings reported that there is little evidence that typical ‘war for talent’ practices that focus on high performers actually contribute to improved business performance. Respondents agreed that it was time to turn to new, more holistic strategies for managing talent, with two-thirds of survey saying it is more important to address the talent needs of all employees in the context of the business and its strategy, and just over half agreeing that pursuing high potential talent at the team’s expense puts the business at risk.

In a similar vein to the KPMG research described above, the findings of a 2011 survey by the American Society for Training and Development across 2,000 mid-level managers found that only 11 percent felt well prepared to handle their increased responsibilities and challenges over the next two years.

Much has been written about the challenge of bringing people through the ranks to fulfill executive roles, but these results make it clear that the issue requires deeper analysis of existing views on leadership development. Specifically, at the middle management level has there been enough focused development to instil confidence, belief and ability to be ready for executive roles? I suspect not.

The reality is that it is not so much a question of how much has been invested in development, rather the kind of development that has been provided. Middle managers still need to translate big picture vision into day-to-day practice, so how much has been done to build strategic capability? Equally, has there been a transition from a focus on the execution of middle management responsibilities towards building leadership capability? Leadership is central to all levels of an organisation – it is necessary to embed authenticity and a sense of connection to the overall purpose of a business amongst all those who influence and inspire people.

It has been reported that up to 80 percent of future leaders will come from within organisations. Whilst research suggests a more holistic approach to talent management is needed, there is clearly a question over how this translates to the experiences of middle managers in the current climate – a period of time where building business capability is crucially dependent on the quality of people, especially at this level. To cite the often quoted phrase, what happens if we invest in our people and they leave? Well, what happens if we don’t and they stay?

Here are some other critical reasons for investing in and retaining middle management:

  • They are your successors;
  • They are often the ones with first hand relationships with team members;
  • They have a high level of intellectual property which is often hard to replace;
  • Retaining and developing talent is a lot cheaper than recruiting new and untested talent;
  • Business is becoming more complex, especially in relation to communication and information flow – middle managers have firsthand experience of the impact on employees and how to get key messages across;
  • The are the gateway between strategy and execution: the middle ‘makes it happen’;
  • They are connectors for the culture and translate the vision and values of a business every day;
  • Leadership is required at all times, both good and bad, so there is a need to have a back up to support executives when required;
  • They have ideally had the chance to ‘act up’ and can respond well in a crisis or when unexpected events occur;
  • People are more likely to want to perform when there is investment and recognition; and
  • Loyalty yields results.

As businesses begin to move into a recovery phase the issue of the new war for talent is a key priority. Channel your investment in development across the spectrum of leadership and ensure that all those with accountability for people have the level of mental preparedness and insight that is necessary to provide authentic, practical and motivational guidance. Middle managers are the gateway to delivering strategy and their ability to both understand this journey, and be ready for the step up when ready, is a crucial success factor for long-term business sustainability.

The bravery of Australian small business owners

I have recently been noticing small to medium sized businesses taking some wonderful calculated risks in what is an otherwise subdued economy.

In the last two months I have seen or heard of people setting up or expanding new small and medium sized businesses. This includes overseas offices in Asia, new cafes, restaurants, personal services businesses, professional service businesses and online clothing stores.

These business owners are showing fantastic bravery, often at great and immediate personal cost in terms of finances, health and family.

For big businesses taking big risks has the potential to impact thousands (and sometimes tens of thousands) of working Australians and their families, and broader communities and stakeholders. However, it feels like a long time since I regularly saw the Australian business media full of stories about big expansion, new or innovative products, or partnerships with start-ups. As always there are exceptions such as the recent acquisition of Dovetail, an innovative start-up that provides online collaboration solutions, by accounting software provider MYOB.

Around 95 percent of the 2 million businesses actively trading in Australia in 2011 were small businesses, accounting for almost half of employment in the private non-financial sector and over a third of production. The OECD estimates that SMEs comprise the overwhelming majority of firms in almost all countries, and contribute to at least two thirds of total employment.

The reality is that SMEs will provide the necessary innovation and job creation potential that will drive new economic growth. The question is how do we go about encouraging them?

Clearly access to funding is vital, together with effective mentoring. Funding for start-ups and growing business can be a complex area; investors have different criteria and understanding the different demands is often a huge learning curve. Increasingly funding can be provided through both traditional financial institutions in addition to other routes such as angel investors, venture capitalists, dedicated funds and high net worth individuals. Recently ANZ announced a $2 billion lending pledge to small businesses to provide a boost for the economy and create new jobs, signalling that they recognise the value of SMEs in the business environment.

One of the potential barriers to building more opportunities for SMEs is the need for more proactive communication. It may be that the ideas and the entrepreneurs exist, but they are struggling to get their voices heard. Not only do new media stories provide important portals for promoting new concepts, they document successes and failures providing important lessons for all.

But what about the role of big business in supporting smaller companies? Are there ways we could get big business to provide financial investment into developing new innovations?

I am keen to open a debate in this area and welcome your views.

One of the starting points is to ask ourselves whether we want big business to be more entrepreneurial? If not, then we need to consider how to better support SMEs to grow into big companies. For example, should we encourage internships from big companies to little companies? If we do, then perhaps we should attract people with SME experience into big companies and not just those CVs which include MBAs and other brand names or big corporate entities.

Established companies providing an opportunity for new ideas and products is an exciting area of discussion and I wonder if it is possible to translate the bravery of small business owners into this sector. Or have leaders in our big companies and government corporations lost the art of calculated risk and positive action?

Vicki Daniel

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