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Avoiding challenge: A strategy for organisational change

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Have you ever wondered as a manager or worker what the best way is to avoid having your ideas challenged?  Tired of trying to make organisational changes and having those changes called into question. Fed up with trying to instigate something only for someone else to be less than keen.  Had enough of trying to do things that will promote your ambitions only to be thwarted by others that just have to add their two pennorth in?  Annoyed at extra work being created for you because of a lack of acceptance of your ideas?  Are you fed up with the ‘nay sayers’?  The answer is simple… don’t communicate anything, just make the changes, and wait for yet another calamity. 

The above of course is somewhat tongue in cheek and I am reminded of working with some consultants several years ago (you know the ones; steal your watch to tell you the time).  I jest, as they had some sage advice on change management. Two things that come to mind: If you think you have communicated enough about change, you haven’t; communicate more.  And find the person or group that needs convincing and work with them, it’s the ‘nay sayers’ that need to be convinced, not the ‘yay sayers’.  They are far more valuable to your organisation than those that say ‘yes’.

What we were talking about was major organisational change, but even small changes can have a major impact on a workforce. In our own organisation a recent staff survey suggested that ‘Over 50% of respondents considered that consultation about change at work is poor’.  That of course relates to previous iterations of change and a new management team would hope to address the issues.  However, in doing so there is a need for organisational change.

I’ve had recent experience of being told that something was happening because someone, in agreement with someone else, thought it was a good idea.  It promotes their department, showing them in a good light; they took the idea to a meeting and lo and behold, it is agreed.  No consultation with those that need to implement the idea, which may be good or bad, who knows.  The point being that it is not just change brought about by managers without consultation that causes annoyance, anxiety and stress, it is those daily working practices of people in the organisation that fear challenge of their ideas.  Changes are often made with the best of intentions.  Sometimes those intentions are to alleviate burgeoning workloads within a department, sometimes to promote the organisation or individuals or to lighten the burden on students, for example.  Often, there is consultation, but it is consultation with the wrong people, consultation with the ‘yay sayers’ and those that have little idea about the impact of the change (for the best will in the world, managers can’t know every detail of the work carried out by their staff).  Such consultation avoids scrutiny but provides a thin veneer of respectability.  Time and again we see staff queuing up to join consultative groups, but how many of these do so with a view to providing a real critique?  Take the idea to a management meeting, get it agreed and there you are, its done.  If asked about consultation, then the answer is ‘yes of course we did’. The problem is nobody asks the question ‘who exactly did you consult with’?

It will take a huge shift in organisational culture to get the ‘nay sayers’ to volunteer for consultative exercises.  They need convincing that their voice is valued and yet they are a valuable asset.   Challenge and scrutiny are healthy and help to mitigate unwanted and unintended consequences.

There is nothing worse than having it done to you when it could so easily have been a case of having it done with you.  Next time you think about changing something, don’t assume you know best, by doing so you demonstrate how little you value others.  


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