The people part of change

Posted by Mark Schenk - February 3, 2010
Filed in Anecdotes, Changing behaviour

In late May 2009 I was invited to advise on change management on a big project in Sydney. P2030086

The client was a medium size logistics organisation with a history of poor performance, low staff engagement and sub-standard customer service. They were in the midst of something of a crisis. They had been directed to substantially down size, two recent reviews had condemned them for their inefficiency and appalling service and a recent reorganisation appeared to have made matters worse.

One of the first things I did was to talk with the senior leaders. The CEO explained that they had reorganised twice, reviewed and substantially modified all operating procedures and introduced new and more efficient technologies to support their work. And despite all that he explained with frustration, nothing had improved. Most of the staff were “hopeless” and he thought the best thing was to replace them all. He had introduced a compliance team to monitor staff adherence to the new rules and processes, but despite many staff being caught and punished, they hadn’t improved.

I gently explained that there was no point changing structures, processes and technology if people continued to behave as they had in the past. They had neglected the people bit of their change agenda. I was mildly surprised when this explanation appeared to come as a revelation for them.

My surprise was short-lived as I observed the way they talked about their staff and behaved over the next few days. I wish this story had a happy ending. I also wish it were an isolated incident.

Mark Schenk About Mark Schenk
Mark works globally with senior leadership teams to improve their ability to communicate clearly and memorably. He has been a Director of Anecdote since 2004 and helped the company grow into one of the world’s leading business storytelling consultancies. . Connect with Mark on:

3 Responses to “The people part of change”

  1. Amanda Fenton Says:

    Mark,
    What an un-fulfilling experience it must have been for you. We were just having that general discussion today about senior leaders and change, and how they acquire a belief and approach to support the people side of the change equation (e.g. their own philosophies, not just occasionally thinking it’s a good idea to ‘bring someone in to do the change bit’!).
    It’s an interesting discussion for anyone who works to support performance and change in organizations.
    As always, thanks for sharing your perspectives and experiences.
    @AmandaFenton

  2. Robyn Ciuro Says:

    Mark, those last three sentences reflect too much of my experience in the workplace. And I think if I hear the words ‘human capital’ again in a conversation about organisational change I’ll just keel over and give up!

  3. Neil Denny Says:

    I’m currently reading Winslade + Monk’s work on Narrative Mediation and Counseling.
    It can be so frustrating to see how the way people refer to and perceive others “frames” them and calls them into states of being.
    Their book on Narrative Counseling in Schools is particularly good, and readable. Don’t be put off by the specific application in the title. The approach and thinking is easily identifiable and transferabe.