“Involving instead of Informing”

Dominic Hand is Managing Director & Head of Human Resource Development at AKZENT Consulting. Along with his team, he supports customers in personnel and organizational development, targeted personnel fitness diagnostics, and digital learning. He works as a consultant on challenges such as change projects and leadership development programs.

Dominic, you have supported a great number of transformation processes. What is the first big mistake that companies make?

The first mistake often happens at the beginning of a transformation project. The managers in charge are good business administrators, with technical and legal expertise, and they have good ideas on how areas, processes, and business models can be optimized. But these changes will only succeed if there is a shift in attitudes, culture and, ultimately, employees’ behavior.

 So, right from the outset, management needs to have experts on board who are trained in the human factor. A transformation of structures and processes is only ever as successful as the transformation in employees’ minds. Soft skills are essential skills, especially in these volatile times. This point is still underestimated, or not prioritized until it is too late – sometimes with serious consequences for the entire project.

But senior management often has coherent arguments and convincing data. That’s a good starting point, isn’t it?

Senior management often believes that it is obvious to everyone why change is necessary. But experience shows that most employees and executives need to be shown in a credible way why change and transformation need to happen, if they are to achieve results in the future. It is important to communicate this sense of urgency clearly and repeatedly. Managers should only take the next step once the critical mass of all concerned has fully understood what will happen if there is no transformation.

Why is that so important? Could you not just dictate the way forward and press ahead?

Many people say that they are fundamentally positive about change – until it hurts them personally for the first time. You can’t entrench the need for change in people’s minds with one-off group events or a email from the CEO. It takes a professional communication strategy, and plenty of small discussions at every level, over a long period of time. Communication skills become essential wherever there is growing pressure to change.

What should the crux of these discussions be?

Initially, most employees see transformation as a potential threat. This is understandable, because the working environment will change radically. Change can provoke fear in many people. If these instinctive reflexes are not overcome professionally, the result can be resignation and resistance, or even a dangerous, negative group dynamic.

How can management counteract this?

It is important to involve employees. People like to have some control over their own destiny and actively help shape it. In my experience, change management, in practice, often relies too much on simply informing staff about developments and decisions, instead of offering the chance for employees to put their heads together and take part, right from the very first step.

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