In our posts to date we’ve talked about workplace experiences, clients, consumers and strategy. These are key ideas in the world of Workplace Management and are at the core of the Workplace Management Framework.
But we are living in exciting and challenging times where organisations have many opportunities to adopt new ways of operating, managing and working to stay relevant and competitive, all of which have serious implications for the management of the workplace. It is becoming clear that the Workplace Management function of the future, needs to have the skills, processes and capabilities to manage systematic, and complex change. Just to be clear, we’re not talking about short term reactive change, (though of course this needs to be handled effectively), we are talking about strategic change, often transitioning to new models of work, place and workplace management, from the ‘current state’ to a new clearly defined ‘future state’. Very often whilst Corporate Real Estate leaders want to reduce costs, business leaders are looking to improve productivity, break down barriers between teams and increase social cohesion in order to let knowledge and ideas flow and to make things happen faster and more smoothly.
And, whereas managing change used to be largely a silo-ed affair with Corporate Real Estate, Facilities Management, Information Technology and Human Resources people managing logistical and technical changes within their respective silos. In today’s world where we are consciously seeking to design and transition to new ‘experiences’ and behaviours, change has to be managed holistically and with a very strong emphasis on behaviour change, which is a new science for many in the workplace world.
Take an increasingly typical change situation, an organisation wants to consolidate the populations of three buildings into one and apply agile working in the process. For the people, and the organisation this represents substantial change, which can lead to serious uncertainty, which can very easily lead to poor morale, confusion and even people seeking to leave. This whole change needs to be managed very carefully and sensitively, but most importantly requires early clarification and it all comes down to some very basic things in the way the brain works.
As humans, we develop our ‘mental models of the world’ and habits through repeated experiences. If you imagine someone that has been working in the same organisation for 10 years, they have been exposed to that organisation’s practices, processes, politics, behaviours and culture for over 1 million minutes. This exposure leads to a subconscious ingraining of habits and understandings which become hard wired. In effect the brain ‘banks’ them so that it can use it’s resources on more complex challenges.
In addition, we now know also that one of the brains most important jobs is to keep you socially and physically safe, so the brains natural inclination is to keep things the same as they are now if it is broadly safe. A move to a future unknown ‘state’ like ‘agile working’ which is often initially ill defined is tough and requires the brain to engage to learn new patterns which is ‘metabolically expensive’ IE it burns a lot of ‘cognitive energy’. In a world where many people have little mental capacity because of work, personal and domestic challenges, it’s a big ask to invite them to engage with change.
So in order to enable people to get comfortable with change, the first thing we need to do is to define very clearly and rationally what the change is ‘from’, ‘to’ and what we are setting out to achieve. In other words, explain how the future will be in relation to how things are now. But on workplace projects there are often many unknowns that don’t gain clarity until later in the process of design.
Once people get a good sense of what the change really is ‘rationally’, and have all their detailed questions answered, they begin to understand the nature of the change and what might be in it for them personally and/or come to terms with the change. All too often leaders explain why they are embarked on change from a corporate standpoint but miss explaining what’s in it for the individual.
Then the next questions the brain wants to have answered are ‘why do you want me to change?’ and ‘why should I change?’, then when and how will we change? And how will things work when we’ve changed?’ All of these sound simple questions, but they are often difficult to determine in the early stages of a project and of course we’re all different with different needs for detail, personal circumstances and personal preferences.
So when we talk about Change Management, we’re talking about managing a variety of work-streams to achieve a particular purpose and aligning activities to get credible answers to the tricky questions above and enable every brain to be engaged in a process that enables them to work out their own truth about the change but in their own ways. This is the art and science of Workplace Change Management, a core capability in the emerging discipline of Workplace Management.