Understanding the Case for Change
Using business logic to generate staff support for transformation
It is an inherent characteristic of human beings that they want and need to know what is going on. Research done in the 70’s by French and Raven found that people will only sustain behaviour when it is based on an acceptance of the logic behind that behaviour. We do things because we see why it is meaningful and sensible to do them.
It is curious then that so few companies going through the process of change focus on enabling their staff to understand the underlying logic of why the change is necessary. And then they wonder why change is so strongly resisted by staff. Some argue that they do tell their staff why change is necessary, show them balance sheets, discuss the challenges of operating in a global economy, and so on. However, such explanations are pointless if their staff don’t understand the fundamentals of business logic in the first place. Debate is only effective when both parties use a shared language – in this case, the language of business.
The South African economy is bedevilled by a lack of shared business language between management and labour (and management and management, labour and labour) – and this lies at the heart of many of our IR, transformation and everyday operational problems. Historically, we have been ill served with basic business education. Only now, for example, is business education to be offered as a general subject at school. Most staff in organisations, including many at management level, do not understand the basic logic of business. And without their understanding the basics, one can not expect people to welcome, or even accept, change.
So we tell people that change is necessary, go ahead with the change and then try to pick up the pieces afterwards. A seemingly obvious alternative is to create shared understanding before change is initiated.
Recent experience at Iscor’s Van Der Bijl Park Works bears out the value of this approach. After years of protection, Iscor found itself uncompetitive in the face of international imports. A bold transformation plan, OP-EX, designed by UK based McKinsey, required compressible cost reductions in the region of 40%. To achieve this would require organisational and work process changes that were unlikely to meet with the approval of an already concerned workforce. Says Agatha van Schalkwyk, of Iscor’s VDB Park Works, “If we had just gone ahead with OP-EX, without providing staff with a clear appreciation of the ‘case for change’, we would have faced major problems down the line. We decided to take pre-emptive action, instituting a process of basic business education, linked to an examination of the challenges faced by and options open to Iscor, in advance of the actual transformation programme. We analysed a number of programmes on the market, opting for Business Education Design’s Team Business which we felt provided the most tangible benefits. The programme designers then customised the programme to meet the specific challenges we faced.”
The results of the programme, tracked from the outset by the NPI, have been dramatic. Pre-programme surveys provide a baseline measure of staff perceptions and attitudes to the planned transformation process. Post-programme measurements then provide an index of attitudinal and intellectual shifts. Key findings were in two areas – understanding of business and appreciation of the ‘case for change’:
Pre-post programme shifts:
Climate change – understanding, and accepting, the case for change:
Pre-post programme shifts:
These results, achieved in a state of uncertainty and retrenchments, suggest the achievement of a critical mass within which constructive change is possible.
Another aspect of the process which proved valuable was the process of buy-in by which the programme was institutionalised. Union representatives were consulted throughout the process and the programme run for their evaluation and comment. Then, before roll-out of the programme began, divisional and regional managers attended the programme. This ensured their understanding of the process their staff would be engaged in, and the types of responses to expect. Involvement of management also promotes acceptance amongst lower level staff.
Andrew Hofmeyr (BA, HDE (PG), BEd. Med, MBA) lectured in educational theory at the Johannesburg College of Education and the University of the Witwatersrand from 1977 to 1992. During that time he studied research methodology and educational technology on an international fellowship at the University of Surrey, UK. He is a founder member of Business Education Design, whose training programmes are used by leading corporations and business schools in South Africa and the USA. He can be contacted at and at the Business Education Design website www.bused.co.za.