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This is the fourth of our series of articles aimed at human resource managers, line managers and others responsible for organising, managing, supporting, recruiting, training and retaining staff and with an interest in introducing more flexible working methods.

Here we consider the importance of consulting and involving all staff regarding the introduction of new ways of working and give examples from a web-based consultation tool.  Other issues covered include piloting and training - of managers and staff.

 

 

 

Communicating and managing change

Sharing the vision:

Many difficulties in staff relations arise simply because of poor communications.  Even if there is bad news, sharing the difficulties with the workforce at an early stage helps ensure reasonable cooperation when the time comes for change.

In most successful organisations - in all sectors - the ambitions of all stakeholders are aligned: managers, staff, shareholders, customers, etc.  Few people want to work in an organisation that is behind the times in its facilities, technologies and working practices.  Staff who learn new skills and have worked in modern cultures and environments are themselves more employable.

If managers are starting to consider implementing the ideas in this book, communicating this news to staff at an early stage will help to avoid difficulties later.  Also, stressing that the aim is to improve the performance of the business and ensure the company remains the employer of choice in its sector will help to dispel any rumours that the project is all about cost cutting.

Raising awareness:

UK managers are in general less technology aware and more technophobic than their counterparts in the USA, Germany, France and the Nordic countries.  There is sometimes a fear amongst managers that they will somehow diminish their authority by exposing their ignorance to subordinates.

This situation is further compounded by technology managers often being poor communicators and lacking business awareness and skills.  In effect the worlds of technology and business management are alien to each other.

It is sometimes said, "technology is too important to be left to the IT manager".  For all these reasons a good starting point is to raise the awareness of information age issues amongst all senior managers and show how other organisations, with which they can identify, are making more effective use of technology.

Awareness raising forms the first stage in staff consultation, establishing a dialogue with senior managers.

Consulting and involving staff

Staff consultation needs to be genuine and to occur before there is a fait accompli.  This is not only to ensure staff feel involved in a change programme, but it is also because those at the "front-line" (sometime called the bottom of the organisation) may have the best ideas as well as being the leaders of the future.

Techniques can include awareness workshops (building on the senior management programmes), departmental "awaydays", face-to-face interviews and structured staff surveys.  It is vital that survey work like this is preceded by briefing events where terms and concepts to be used are explained to staff, and there is an opportunity for asking questions.

If the organisation has an Intranet, this can be used as a highly effective tool for staff consultation, with those who do not have access to a PC (e.g. catering and security personnel) receiving paper questionnaires.  The particular circumstances of each organisation will demand different questions, covering such areas as:

  • Life-style and work-home balance

  • Attitudes to different forms of flexible working

  • Working time

  • Aspects of working life

  • The working environment

  • Technology and communications

  • Impact of flexible working on the business.

Surveys should carry the authority of a senior figure such as the Chief Executive or HR Director, and assurances need to be given that the information will remain confidential.

Where possible questions should be structured for ease of analysis, for example multiple-choice answers.  The facility for free-form comments can also be valuable; our experience is that many respondents will put considerable effort into suggesting ways in which the performance of the business can be improved.

An illustration:

The following examples are taken from a survey carried out in the London Head Office of a large UK organisation, in the context of a project to attract and retain good staff. 

Question

From a personal perspective, when would you value the following changes to your working arrangements?

Question:  

What is your attitude to the following flexible working options?

Question:  

How long is your daily return commute journey?

The results here are not atypical for a city-based employer.  Flexible working hours and the ability to spend 1-2 days per week working at home is an attractive option for many people.  From the survey work it becomes possible to assess what factors - such as travel-to-work distance, types of work undertaken, domestic considerations etc - influence attitudes to taking up flexible work.

In this organisation an analysis of these and a wide range of other questions, coupled with extensive and valuable freeform comments, built a strong case for introducing new working practices to the benefit of the business and its people.

Building a shared agenda for change:

The combination of awareness workshops, team meetings, face-to-face and structured consultation, case studies, visits to other organisations and clarification of business and personal benefits can build a powerful movement for change.

Translating this into a practical programme involves working with operational, facilities and technology managers to develop a strategy from the various options available.

It is a good idea to maintain staff involvement throughout this process, for example by co-opting team members into working groups.

Piloting change:

Piloting and "quick-wins" are excellent ways to validate ideas for change.  Most of the concepts for new ways of working can be piloted without incurring high costs or making irreversible changes.

The idea of a pilot is to prove (or disprove) that a change should be adopted.  It is vital therefore that pilots are monitored, either by measuring relevant parameters before, during and after or by comparison with a control group.

Often the consultation process will identify quick wins that do not require piloting.  These can also help give the project credibility amongst managers and others that remain sceptical.

Training for flexible working:

Apart from being helped with awareness of information age issues, managers and staff need to learn new skills and attitudes in order to work effectively in the new environments.

Training requirements should come out of a needs analysis, which should in turn result from a thorough understanding of the new working locations, working practices, business and communications processes and technologies.

The following list outlines some areas that are frequently not addressed and can therefore result in difficulties:

  • Managing a distributed workforce

  • Self-supported working

  • Effective time management

  • Supporting a team

  • Using remote access technology.

In addition, training will often be needed in the use of applications such as groupware, intranets, advanced telephony and knowledge management.

Next article: Policies for flexible working