September 20, 2017, by Charlotte Anscombe

Ex-Chief Constable teaches businesses about change

Ex-Chief Constable Sue Fish OBE, is bringing the weight of her extensive experience working in the public sector to provide concrete real-world examples and advice to small and medium size business owners in an event hosted by the Centre for Research in Applied Linguistics.

“During my policing career change was a constant.  Whether that was a new piece of legislation that created a new criminal offence that I had to learn and put into practice, organisational structures, ethical and behavioural standards, introduction and advancement of technologies, or accountability.

What was also a constant was many police officers and staff (civilian employees) saying “when will change stop and just give them a moment to catch their breath”.  Now I am outside of policing I have had the chance to reflect on this dynamic and consider how effectively I responded in both initiating, implementing and leading change myself – and what others can learn from my experience.

As a broad generalisation, I can honestly say I like change.  It is fun, energising, creative and stimulating.  It means I learn, stretch, and develop myself as well as my organisation.  Change is a way of improving services to the public.  And let’s be honest being positively associated with change and the future improves the CV and could secure the next promotion.  Making change happens requires decisiveness and dynamic action.  So, who wouldn’t like change then?

However, in my experience insufficient attention is paid to the issues.  Is there a problem or an issue that needs resolving?  Do we understand the problem we are trying to fix or are we responding to internal or external drivers (or pre-empting them)?  Or is it simply the next “new, shiny thing” that is pursued – picked up or dropped as fashion or attention span dictates with implementing and benefits realisation being left to chance as the focus moves onto something else?

So, my top tips are:

Understand the problem you are trying to fix and ensure so do your workforce, partners, customers, stakeholders – treat them as adults and they are more likely to respond as the adults they are. Understand the culture of the organisation, and the context and purpose of the change. Have an accurate, rigorous, costed business case and understand the cost benefit and ROI before the decision to change is made.  Implement.  Post implementation evaluation. Understand the difference the change has made (or not); and be prepared to listen and hear – bad as well as good news.

But above all communicate, communicate, communicate.  Anxiety about change can be the problem so communication is often key to reducing fear.  Your vision or message for the change needs to be relevant to them. Answer why you can’t stay still.  Keep it simple and see it through their eyes and the more personal the message the better.

Effecting change is hard work, it is high risk to your reputation and your resilience.  It creates uncertainty not just for the workforce or your customers or suppliers, but for you as well so reflect on your levels of self-belief, personal values, and your motivation and skills to lead this change.  I also reflect on the fact that 80% of change doesn’t deliver what it set out to do i.e. fails.

Let me leave you with this thought: failure to change is not fatal, though failure to change might be.”


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