In today’s VUCA world, organisations are constantly implementing change, big or small. But how do you ensure that your change process is actually successful? How do you get employees on board and actively involve them in changes? During the second Infoland Executive Event, Marieke Kessels (CEO of Infoland), Frank Verberne (Change Manager and Business Coach at INVORM, The Change Company) and Aniek Janssen (Principal advisor Leadership & Change at TwynstraGudde) engaged in a dialogue about change management.
Aniek Janssen works at TwynstraGudde. As an organisation consultant, she trains leaders and change agents and helps organisations with challenging change issues. She also has extensive experience in administrative and political contexts and is responsible for knowledge sharing and professional development within TwynstraGudde. Aniek is also co-author of ‘Het groot interventieboek’ which describes no fewer than 99 interventions to bring about change. This already indicates something about the breadth of the subject.
Frank Verberne has a multifaceted career and experience in change management. For instance, he worked in the corporate world for a long time, including at Philips. In addition, he has had his own company for over thirty years and eighteen years’ experience as an interim manager in various profit and non-profit organisations. Frank has also written an e-book on the subject of ‘The Human Side of Change’, titled: ‘KOM MAAR OP, Bewegen naar Verandering’.
Marieke Kessels has been with Infoland for almost 15 years, of which she has now been CEO for several years. Partly under Marieke’s leadership, Infoland has grown to 650+ clients and 110+ employees. Change processes are the order of the day at Infoland. As CEO, Marieke is ultimately responsible for the changes Infoland implements.
Change management is a broad topic. Therefore, a number of models were highlighted during the Executive Event to give structure to the dialogue. ‘Depth of change’ is a model by TwynstraGudde. This model shows that there are different types of change processes, each requiring a different approach. Aniek explains: “At TwynstraGudde, we distinguish between three different types of orders of change. The first order is optimisation. You want to do what your organisation does more efficiently and better, for example by working more project-based. You then go from A to A+. The impact of this change on employees is usually fairly limited.”
The second category of this model is about transformation: you go from A to B. “In this order, you are going to do something substantially different and break existing patterns. This usually cannot be done without ‘hassle’, it involves resistance,” Aniek explains. “In the VUCA world we live in today, which involves complex social issues, you often don’t know what B is. Then we talk about transitions (the third order) – you go from A to C, D, E,… You can imagine that this calls for a different change strategy.”
Aniek uses this model in her role as an organisational consultant to interpret what kind of change process is involved and what strategy is appropriate for that type of change. Aniek: “It is not always immediately clear what type of change is involved. I am sometimes invited for a project where my client says quite clearly that it is a first-order change. It then turns out later that it is a second-order change project after all, the problem lies deeper than I thought, which requires a different strategy and different interventions.”
At Infoland, too, we are constantly improving and changing. Marieke says: “Often these are changes of the first order, but we are now also, for example, in the process of transforming from a company that makes software into a company that offers solutions for concrete customer issues. Software is then of course still an important component, but it is about the whole of software, supplemented by services and, for example, certain links to other systems. Such a transformation requires a different mindset and a different approach.“
During his career in business, Frank has approached change projects using an approach similar to the ‘Depth of Change’ model. “You start at the top and think about what strategy goes with what change,” he says. “As an interim manager, I tackled this differently because you get into the dynamics of day-to-day operations. Whether a change is of the first, second or third order – the shop is open and employees have to do their work every day to keep customers happy.” On the other hand, there must be room to do things differently, on the way to A, B or C. Frank: “Whichever way you look at it, if you don’t know how to connect with the work floor, you are missing something essential. Because that’s where, in the operational work area, the change has to take place.“
Setting a dot on the horizon is important if you want to engage employees in a change, so that they see and feel the meaning behind a change. If you don’t set that mark, it often brings an initial challenge. Aniek: “You cannot always plan the future tightly, but it is important to determine the direction in which you want to go. In my view, where it often goes wrong is that organisations think that once they have set the mark, the change has already started. While it often only starts there.”
What is going on in an organisation and in the workplace? What dynamics and patterns make it difficult to move away from a habit? You need to look at that carefully, and only then can you choose interventions. Aniek continues: “In my view, much more attention should be paid to what is going on among employees, not just to setting out a vision. Because that often changes anyway. You have to look at the gap between where you want to go and where the organisation is now.”
To get people moving, it is important to translate the mark on the horizon into something close to them, something tangible. “There has to be a collective goal to which people want to contribute. If it becomes too much of a distant show, people drop out,” Frank explains. “As change manager, you have to work out what the change means for departments and functions.” Marieke agrees: “In my view, the mark on the horizon is necessary to initiate something, but then to really get started you need to know what the dynamics in the organisation are and what the first intervention can be.”
So, as a manager, you want to understand why models and interventions are important on the one hand, but you need to be able to flatten this for colleagues and become concrete on the other. You need to provide interpretation: what do you expect from employees when you talk about ‘task-oriented work’? Frank: “My tip is: above all, give back what people already do well and what they can hold on to. In addition, clearly indicate what other desired behaviour is and why, and discuss it. Also indicate that you want people to give you feedback on what you can improve. Even as a manager you are in transition, you are never the perfect manager.”
Each change process requires customisation, depending on the change task, the history, the context of the organisation and the change agent. At TwynstraGudde, we developed the Colour Theory (Caluwé and Vermaak), a meta-theory on change. Each colour represents a different view of change. Aniek: “The colour theory helps change agents develop awareness of how they look at change. The colour glasses you wear often says something about the interventions you will choose in your approach. By being aware of the glasses you are wearing, and by challenging yourself to wear other glasses, you become much more powerful and versatile as a change agent.”
For example, if you want to implement new IT systems in your organisation, the design approach (the blue colour) is often chosen. “You design where you want to go and work towards that change step by step, in a planned and result-oriented way,” says Aniek. You can also put on glasses that focus on motivation (red) and people’s drives: how can you entice colleagues to go along in a change? The green glasses say that learning and change are linked. Aniek: “If you make people aware of the fact that they are not yet able to do something and provide them with tools to develop those skills or knowledge, change will occur from this perspective.”
With the fifth pair of glasses (white), you question the manufacturability and plannability of change. “You can imagine that is a complexity theory that fits well with the third order,” says Aniek. So as a change agent, it is good to be aware of which glasses you are wearing, because as a manager, you often deploy interventions you believe in yourself. Your own bias ensures a certain approach, whereas you should start from the issue, take a good look at what is going on in the organisation and only then decide which strategy to choose. She continues: “In my view, you need to have all your glasses ready to walk through the process very adequately. Put the different glasses on at the front, when you make the plan. You will then see different things. That will make your approach many times richer and more flexible.”
Marieke uses a combined behavioural model at Infoland, which is based on several models (Ajzen (1991) and Appelbaum and others (2000), Balm) that have been merged. She explains: “Human behaviour is directly determined by our intention, that is, our willingness to perform the behaviour. This intention is then determined by three factors.
The first is capability: our understanding of what needs to be done and how. It involves knowledge and skills. The second is motivation: our willingness and drive to act. And the third is possibility. It means our ability to do what is expected. It’s about resources and contextual factors.”
The social sciences consider social evidence or “social proof”. People often adapt to the behaviour of others; we are herd animals. You can use and take this into account in change processes as well. Frank adds: “Agreed. It is then not only about employee behaviour, but also about your behaviour as a manager. What change do you need to make as a leader if you want to give more autonomy to employees? Are you yourself aware of what that requires of you?”
The “have to” factor also plays a big role if you want to get employees on board in a change process. Everyone has to do a lot these days. “Sometimes it’s good to let go of the ‘should’ and make room for the new. As a manager, create that space and encourage employees to think of something new,” says Frank. Marieke adds: “Make sure there is room for discussions, because they bring you closer to the direction. I also believe that informal leadership plays a big role in this.”
Aniek: “I am a great advocate of working with change teams, containing a combination of people with formal but also certainly informal positions, in which you design the changes together in a participatory way. A formal leader should not come in all-knowing and say, ‘this is how we have to do it from now on.’ It is precisely by involving informal leaders and people on the work floor and engaging in dialogue with each other that you get change that better reflects reality and ensures sustainable change.“