We went to the Annual Convention of the Chartered Management Institute in Birmingham, a body who are deeply concerned with the ability of managers to manage and providing them with the tools they need to try to stay competitive.
Their main concern was change and how to manage it.
In the face of the emergent economies of the East it is clear that we in the West are not competitive, even taking into account their reliance on a huge and very cheap labour force.
It is universally acknowledged we must change the way that we manage to stay competitive but, even with the concentration of Management talent that was present in Birmingham, it seems that we are still struggling to understand the nature of the change we have to make.
In almost every case there is an assumption by managers that they are the ones who will find the right changes to make, the ones that will restore our ability to compete in a world market.
The problem is that the problem is this assumption.
You may want to read that again.
The assumption by managers that they know the answer is the cause of the resistance to change. When they have tried to implement change in the past that is neither needed nor wanted the workforce reacted against it until now the workforce assume that anything management do is wrong and resist automatically.
Trying to implement change in these circumstances has been likened to herding cats and much effort has been spent in the development of new cat herding tools.
When these tools fail to herd the cats it is assumed that the tools have been used incorrectly or that the wrong tools were being used.
Today’s workforce are even more like cats, independent, intelligent, skilled and even less likely to respond to the efforts of management to herd them.
Instead of seeking new tools to do the same thing, when history has shown us the futility of driving change, we should be looking for an alternative way to create the change we are looking for?
When the workforce are consulted about change they show us exactly what the change is that will not only be effective they will also show us how to make it happen, and because it is their change, it belongs to them, they will take pride in its implementation and the associated performance improvement.
The workforce want to be involved and proud of what they do but are prevented when they are driven by the management assumption that they have nothing to offer.
To herd cats all you have to do is find out where they want to go, then help them to get there.
Driving them has never worked in the past. Why should we expect it to work now?
The only change that managers need to make is to stop assuming that they know best and acknowledge the input from, and talent of, the workforce that they already possess.
To change our performance we have to change the way we think about what we do, not just what we do.
Peter A Hunter
Author – Breaking the Mould