Managing the impact of external and internal change in
an organisation is vital to its ongoing high performance.
External triggers for change might include the economy,
globalisation, technological change, service delivery or
political pressures. Internally, change is often driven by
service delivery or organisation reform, and variations in
budgets, costs and human resource issues.
Good change management practice is about understanding
the change that is occurring and taking a systematic
approach to it while having the knowledge, tools and
resources to readily respond to the change. Australian
and international experience shows common factors
to successful change management; the Queensland
government lists these as planning, defined governance,
committed leadership, informed stakeholders and an aligned
workforce.15 As a management practice, responsiveness to
change correlates highly with high-performing workplaces.
Senior managers need to be flexible, adaptable and able to
respond appropriately and quickly to changes if they are to
deliver effective outcomes.
However, change can be distressing for individuals,
particularly when managed poorly, and can lead to
employees perceiving their job as insecure. Continuous
change is one of the central challenges for maintaining
wellbeing at work.
Respondents to the People Matter survey were asked about
their perceptions of change management in the NSW public
sector. Only 44% of staff feel that change is handled well
in their workplace (a 2% improvement on 2012). A higher
proportion (53%) feel that their job is secure (up from 51%
in 2012). However, there is a sense that action is being taken,
with 65% of respondents agreeing that their organisation
is making the necessary improvements to meet future
challenges – a 7% increase since 2012.
Snapshot – Effective communication
On commencement of her employment, Kim McKay, the Director and CEO of the Australian Museum, gave an undertaking to meet with every employee. She then initiated roundtable meetings in small cross-divisional groups of 12 to discuss the future of the museum and solicit new ideas for improvements across the business. The most innovative ideas will be recognised through a formal rewards system. These meetings have generated many exceptional ideas, and staff moral and optimism have increased considerably due to the simple fact that every employee's ideas and opinions are sought, valued and appreciated. "Now I not only have 300 brilliant ideas for the future, I also have a first-hand understanding of my team and their experiences," says McKay. This initiative has reportedly delivered improvements in organisational culture – staff interactions between divisions have improved and feelings of unease from a recent restructure have dissipated.
By contrast, agencies rated their change management practices as relatively mature. In the Agency survey, more than 90% said they had implemented detailed plans and procedures for supporting change management, with 62% rating them above basic practice (see Figure 16). While the majority of agencies have detailed communications strategies for managing change, only 46% have also implemented project management software, processes and meetings to monitor progress and manage risks at a level above basic practice. Even fewer agencies (26%) assess managers on the success of change at a higher than basic level.
Figure 16: Change management practices implemented by agencies
While employees rate agencies' change management practices relatively poorly compared to the agencies' perspective, there is a strong association between higher scores from employees and agency efforts. Those agencies that rated themselves more highly for change management practices were more likely to have gained positive responses from employees in a broad range of People Matter survey questions, including all the values categories, team cohesion, resourcing, learning, career development, performance management and mobility.
Although initially appearing incongruent, the relatively low frequency of 'highly developed' ratings by agencies highlights the difference between having a practice in place versus implementing it broadly and effectively. Also, if change has negative consequences for employees, then regardless of how well it is implemented, it is not likely they will rate the change positively. So while it appears that agencies may be overly optimistic about the quality of their change management practices, it is also understandable that employee ratings of change will typically score below agency ratings. The low result in assessment of senior managers' capability to manage reform and change (see 'Executive capabilities' on the next page) confirms that further work is required by agencies in this area.
Agencies that rated themselves more highly for change management practices were more likely to have gained positive responses from employees in a range of survey questions, including all the public sector values, team cohesion, performance management and mobility.
15.Queensland Government (2013), Change Management Best Practices guide