The vast majority of managers who are responsible for leading a change project are fully aware of the advantages of involving their team members in order to reach a successful conclusion. At the same time however, they regret that they are rarely able to do so, for two specific reasons.
The first of these is that more and more often they are being asked to implement imposed solutions, where everything has already been decided in advance. In these conditions, adopting a participative approach would have a purely “cosmetic” value, which would fool no-one, especially the people directly concerned by the change.
The second obstacle is a lack of time. Achieving a 50% reduction in the internal failure costs of a production unit employing 500 people within one year, reorganizing a team of 150 sales reps in less than three months, applying a new health & safety regulation in just a few weeks. Even if everyone acknowledges that the lead time is too short, market demands sometimes leave us with little choice…
Do the situations described above strike a chord with you? Our response to your doubts about the possibility of adopting a participative approach in such situations is that you really have no choice. Without field-level contribution, change cannot be successful.
Now for some good news. First of all, there is always a margin of manoeuvre at local level in any change process. Your own leaders may come up with the most clear-cut solution imaginable, but they could never anticipate all the different ways of implementing the solution out in the field. There is always room for co-construction; sometimes not much room, but room nonetheless.
Furthermore, and this is the second piece of good news, it is not necessary to have a sizeable margin of manoeuvre in order to involve your teams. What is however important is to be extremely clear about the reality of this margin of manoeuvre, to consult people on the issues that are linked to the real consequences of the change on their work and to provide feedback on the solutions that they put forward. This is how to obtain your teams’ commitment to the cause.
Good news #3: it is possible to allow your teams to contribute without extending the project lead time, nor disrupting business operations. Contributions from the field can be received within the framework of existing forums for expression: department meetings, steering committees, etc… Certain professions also lend themselves more readily to the gathering of proposals at their place of work (e.g; between two appointments for sales reps, during off-peak hours for customer service personnel, …). And, for want of repeating ourselves, let’s not forget that it is not the quantity of participation that matters; it is how well the framework is set.
By way of example, we have previously supported a department of 70 employees, the organization of which had to be aligned, in just 2 months, with the new organizational model imposed by the European head office. By applying the principles outlined above, we were able to define, in collaboration with the members of staff, around 30 local adjustments to the proposed business processes and the system of governance. All of these adjustments resulted in significant performance gains for the department. The European head office didn’t even need to know about what had been done: the imposed reorganization framework was complied with, the implementation time frame as well. And the results were there for all to see!