What Gives You The Right? - An Introduction To Managing Change

Andrew Gowans

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Back, (maybe I should say “way back") in the ‘80's, as a senior manager in Hewlett Packard Ltd. , UK, I was regularly asked to give talks to groups from both the public and private sectors.

The most common themes were People Development, Performance Appraisal, Continuous Improvement and "Managing Change"

I suppose it would be fair to say that my ‘presentations’ and discussions were somewhat animated with a great deal of walking about and mingling with the audience. So much so that I could not get comfortable with overheads and tended to use two flipcharts on which I could prepare key messages on one and take notes on the other especially when important points were made or questions were not answered fully.

It would also be fair to say that after a while the talks became routine and I always welcomed a challenging group with whom we could have a lively discussion instead of a one-way presentation.

The Question That Almost Threw Me

On one occasion, I had just been introduced and had given a brief overview of the session to a group of around a couple of hundred members of the police force, when this sergeant in the front row piped up. . .

"What gives you the right to talk about managing change?"

Wow! Did that stop me in my tracks.

Slowly walking over to the flipchart, I'm thinking how do I answer this one?

There was only one thing for it! Flipchart pen in hand, I turned, looked at the sergeant and said:

"Well, let me see" as I started the list

  • Left home at sixteen
  • Father died when I was twenty one
  • Mother died a few years later
  • Engaged three times
  • Went through very difficult and painful divorce
  • Married twice
  • Moved from Scotland to England (Serious change situation!!!)
  • Almost bankrupted
  • Promoted within the department
  • Promoted to a different department function
  • "All I can say, sergeant, is that any one of the items on the list can be a significant change situation. Certainly some may be perceived as more serious than others but all change situations need the appropriate due care and attention, especially when they involve others"

    While we continued with the discussion following the rest of the presentation part, it became clear that there was a general perception that change or the management of it wasn't a problem for companies such as Hewlett Packard compared to the public sector.

    I had never worked in the public sector and, therefore, wasn't prepared to comment other than to summarise by making the following key points. . .

    Yes, we were looked after. Yes, we did have an excellent working environment. Yes, we did have a superb range of benefits. However all of that would pale into insignificance if a change situation wasn't managed properly.

    What do I mean by properly?

  • Before talking about it, make sure we understand it
  • What is it?, Why is it?, When is it?, Who is effected by it?
  • Difficult as it may be, do not leave staff to find out on their own
  • If effected by the change, think it through, what does this mean to me
  • Plan its implementation, who needs to be involved
  • What needs to be communicated, by whom and by when
  • Avoid any attempts to B. S. It will ALWAYS be recognized
  • Absolutely no question is trivial. Give it due care and attention
  • If you ask a question, listen to the answer before passing judgement
  • Don't listen to rumours and, certainly, don't start them!
  • As always, a lot easier said than done. But, there is one thing for sure, any change situation will always be less controversial, more readily acceptable, and definitely managed a whole lot easier as long as people DOWN and UP the organization Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

    This introduction hopefully sets the scene for a series of follow up articles which will look at change and transition in greater detail.


    Andrew has over 20 years experience providing personal and business coaching specialising in strategic planning, continuous improvement, personal development and lifelong learning.

    Providing a focused problem solving approach through our personal and business coaching (especially to small businesses). This approach is linked to providing work at home businesses, affiliates and online businesses with PROFITABLE INTEGRATED SOLUTIONS.

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