Managing Change: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

You are part of a process improvement team and change is what you do. Change is good, change is the only way forward, change is the God you worship and the Master you serve so well. So, it comes as a great surprise when people do not seem to appreciate what you are trying to do! You walk into their department, spot all the problems, re-engineer their processes and put controls in place, surely all these are good things? So why can’t they see the benefit of all this great work? They must be blind.

Imagine though for a second that you are on the other side of the fence. You work on the front line of a busy department. You are diligent, conscientious, always on time and happy to work on challenging tasks. But these challenges keep changing. First there was a reorganisation of the department and you were put in a central team, working at the front end and doing a lot of customer service (without any training). Then there was another reorganisation, you were divided into smaller teams working on administrative tasks. The customer service aspect of the work was taken up by “business experts”, however people still chase you for updates, which makes your workload soar. And on top of all this, you had to learn how to use three different IT systems in three years. And none of them works the way you need it to, as they were bought off the peg.

Enter the BIC

At this point, in your frustration, here comes your garden variety of BIC – Business Improvement Consultant. And with a smile, they tell you that all your efforts are causing an enormous amount of “waste”, your “processing time” is abysmal and you need to change your ways. You are overworked as it is, however there is no mention of extra resource, there’s no money in the kitty for that. And that not-so-good IT system you hate? It is here to stay, there’s no money to change that either. Well, no wonder you do not appear to be “receptive to change” then!

Me doctor, you patient

Let’s take a moment here to dissect the situation. On one hand we have the “BICs”, “Us”, the good eggs, the eyes and ears of the Board, the beacons of efficiency and improvement. On the other, we have the “Business”, “Them”, the targets of our efforts for change, the reluctant sticks-in-the-mud who refuse to take this seriously. Right? Wrong. Let’s not forget who was doing the work before we arrived. Let’s not forget who had to put up with the wonky IT, the out of control processes, the impossible demands and targets. What we really have here is not an “Us” and a “Them”, we have a Doctor and a Patient. And unless the Doctor takes the Patient seriously, the cure is not going to be successful.

Change is good when it is needed, when it adds visibility and accountability, when it re-aligns processes and adds controls and measures, indispensable to the good running of a business unit. Change is bad when it is done for the sake of it, when it is not defined properly and it is not tested first to make sure it achieves its goals. Change can turn ugly when processes are uprooted before they had time to embed, when the goal is to “act busy” rather than create efficiencies and, worst of all, when people affected by the change are not being asked, yet are expected to hold the baby tightly once the BICs have done their handover. Change should make things more cost-effective, however it should not always be made on the cheap, the fallout could be more costly in terms of lost customers, demoralised employees, lost talent.

Examples aplenty; remember outsourcing, cost-driven redundancies, Frankenstein re-structures. All of us have experienced one or the other or more in our working lives. But let’s not forget whose sweat and tears all this is. And let’s be more respectful of the average Joe we are trying to change into an efficient automaton.

So next time you are called upon rocking someone’s world, e.g. improve a process or solve a business problem, please remember to ask the people what they need in order to do their job well. Factor in your busy project schedule workshops and diagnostic interviews, take good care to show that you are listening to the issues and concerns and that you are not there to cast judgment and show them how to do their job. That’s the only way to make allies along the way and make good change stick, without any ugliness.

This is a guest article by Athena McEwen, a Business Improvement Consultant at Lloyd's Register.


I found this an extremely thoughtful article, highlighting extremely well, what I call the "human" face of change which can so often be dismissed.

Excellent article.

Great article and so true. Just one point I would like to add and that is not to forget the importance of also having a vision that the team are aligned to (linked to the overall company/division etc vision).

Having this as the starting point helps to break down barriers over what is and isn't necessary (because we have always ....syndrome).

Doctor and patient is a good metaphor to sum up the BIC vs management relationship. And just how you would allow your doctor to prescribe you with life-altering remedies like bed rest - a BIC could persuade you easily to bring big change to how you run things.