Professor Dave Spicer, Dean of the Business School at the University of Salford, has experience of change management in his role working at a major UK retailer and then studied the subject as part of his academic career. He has 20 years of organisational change research to highlight the roles and responsibilities, as well as the difficulties, of the successful change agent and the organisations in which they work.
Here he gives his take on the best way of dealing with change.
“There are six key things that an effective change agent needs to do. They need to help the organization define the problem, to help the organization examine what causes the problem and diagnose how this can be overcome, to assist in getting the organization to offer alternative solutions, to provide direction in the implementation of alternative solutions and finally to transmit the learning process that allows the client to deal with change on an ongoing basis by itself in the future.
“The aim is to get the change taken up by staff. In fact, the best change agents can be invisible. They come to influence colleagues, but they want those colleagues to take their ideas forward. This means they don’t always get the credit they deserve.
“One of the keys is the shared mental model of the company that employees have. My research has shown that exploring these models and how they differ can be key to changing behaviours.
“Employees and managers can see the world very differently. I have looked at some of the shared understanding, for example in one case where a training company and a consultancy had been merged and the CEO was trying to build one company.
“The CEO wanted to change the culture and had defined what this was to be and this was understood by all his management team. But, there has been no formal attempt to manage or influence this change in any systematic manner and these two organisations with different cultures and histories were still acting as two separate companies, despite the merger.
“Even worse, managers knew that the company still operated as two separate entities but hadn’t shared this with the CEO. The insights my research afforded to the organisation opened up this senior management dialogue. Mapping the extent of (and gaps in) shared mental models enabled the surfacing of this underlying issue, and was instrumental in allowing managers to identify an agenda to drive the change forward. It had been a failure of leadership to expect rather than drive change, but that was a problem we could solve.
“In other work with two local councils I found that the extent of the shared mental model (and shared understanding of the challenges faced) was related to the success of change – and this applies at both a senior management level as well as more widely in the organisation.
“The distinction between the two councils is that in one had a much stronger and consistent shared model and using mapping helped identify that. This council also reported a much more active approach to learning and attitudes to the outcomes of the changes being undertaken were much more positive too. I put that down the much stronger managerial model and the fact the managers were more connected, they were working together to learn and bring change.”