x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Nothing is harder than change

The Life: Managing change and transition at organisations requires time and communication with staff members, say business management experts from Ashridge Business School.

Jasim Ahmed Al Ali, senior HR adviser to the director general at Dubai Media, has learnt to manage transition. Charles Crowell for The National
Jasim Ahmed Al Ali, senior HR adviser to the director general at Dubai Media, has learnt to manage transition. Charles Crowell for The National

Part of Jasim Ahmed Al Ali's job is to convince staff members about the advantage of rotating among departments for better exposure.

While some employees are enthusiastic, others resist.

Managing transition and change is a skill that Mr Ali has picked up in four years as the director of development and follow-up at the Department of Economic Development (DED) in Dubai. In March, he joined Dubai Media as senior HR adviser to the director general.

To get a better understanding of how to manage change and transition, he was among the roughly 50 people who attended a seminar organised by Ashridge Consulting in Dubai a few weeks ago.

Organisational transition is a time of upheaval, be it in the government or private sector. And people need to be prepared for that. Professors from Ashridge Business School say that long-term planning and gaining the workforce's trust are what keep an organisation afloat during such times.

Ashridge also provides consultancy to companies and organisations on managing change.

"Why bother with different perspectives to change?" Liz Wiggins, an Ashridge consulant, asked the seminar's audience of human resources directors, business development managers and government officials.

Why? Because "it recognises the complex and multifaceted nature of change, and the different ways of seeing and reframing provides new possibilities for action."

That was evident in a game of picture cards at the gathering.

Pointing to a card showing a white figure of a man colouring a row of others red, Ms Wiggins said: "I see passivity of others."

A member of the audience said: "It tells me I won't change but would like others to change."

The diversity of the population also comes into play.

"High levels of diversity in the region affect how change is interpreted, made sense of and the level of motivation or buy-in to change," says Rory Hendrikz, a Dubai-based director of Ashridge Middle East.

Setting a change-management policy is also necessary for any organisation, Ashridge says.

And to have a policy suitable for a particular organisation, it is necessary to distinguish between change and transition.

"But we often find that organisations ignore transition management," Ms Wiggins says.

A policy geared exclusively towards "change" looks only at the desired outcome and ends up with a logical change plan. It ignores the emotions that staff members go through during the process of change - grief, loss, anger, fear, resentment, dissent, hope and finally acceptance.

"We have to work with these emotions to better make people and staff work together and otherwise we are less likely to succeed," Ms Wiggins said.

A challenge that managers face in dealing with change is the short period of time they have in implementing change, according to members of the audience.

There is no one way to make decisions.

Whether the process is long or quick, it will have advantages and drawbacks, Mr Hendrikz says.

"Quick decisions can lead to a 'fast start, slow finish' change phenomena, where once a quick decision is made, a long tail can follow," he says.

That, he says, can be due to a failure to plan through the whole process, and low levels of engagement leading to low levels of organisation understanding of the rationale for change.

Besides giving ample time to implement change, building identifying ways to engage as many people as possible in the change is necessary for smooth transition, Ms Wiggins says.

Communication is still the key.

Dubai Media's Mr Al Ali says that there are two groups of people when it comes to organisational change.

One is the group that resists change, and the other comprises humble people who are interested in change and are enthusiastic about it.

With the difficult people, Mr Al Ali said, "we mentor them, we have to know who are resistant, and see how we can increase their satisfaction".