Leading Change You Don’t Believe In: Making Sense of it All

When receiving the responsibility to implement any policy, an essential step is to make sense of the policy. In doing so, it is important to remember that sense-making is a quality of people, not of objects. With this idea in mind, a manager has three perspectives worthy of attention.

Senior Management Perspective. The individual or group who devised the policy and are requiring its implementation have their reasons. It is generally useful to assume that senior management behavior is not random. They develop and promote policies to meet important objectives. There are at least three general categories to consider when anticipating those objectives.

    Progress. A new policy may be an innovation to move the organization forward. It may improve quality or extend the organization’s reach into new territories or policies. The plan is that the organization will be better off with this policy in place.

    Maintenance. Some new policies are prevent losses or reduce costs of retaining the recent level of functioning. For example, Blackberry drastically reduced staffing as a means of adapting to sharp decreases in sales. Public sector hospitals restructure in ways that eliminate positions in response to reduced funding. The purpose is not to improve quality or reach, but to assure the organization’s survival in tough times.

    Risk Reduction. Some policies respond to government regulations, insurance requirements, or liability concerns. They generally amount to a modest cost now to reduce the risk of a larger cost later in the event of trouble.

Employee Perspective. Members of a work unit judge a new policy regarding its impact on their work. Part of their concern will focus on the quality of services. From this perspective, progress is welcomed, maintenance poses a threat, and risk reduction wastes resources. Another part of their response focuses on disruption to their workday. They may have more work, different work, or different workplaces. Generally, staff members experience any change to day-to-day patterns as a strain. A few may welcome a change as a means to escape a tedious or uncivil worksetting, but most will feel annoyed by disruptions. First line managers play important roles in broadening staff members’ perspectives to consider the policies’ implications for the larger organization.

Managers’ Perspective. Managers feel a primary allegiance to their workgroup. When making sense of a change initiative, they must take the first step in broadening their own perspective. Even when their primary concern is assuring the smoothest transition for their own workgroup, managers benefit from understanding its broader implications for the organization. They not only have a stake in assuring the larger organization’s survival, they also need to appreciate the initiatives’ more remote benefits to do their jobs effectively. Doing so produces more resilient workgroups.

Previous Posts in this Series

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