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Lessons in managing change? Look and listen!

January 6, 2016 – by Corriene van Eck &samhoud consultancy

Marc van den Berg’s personal reflection on change process for Change department within PGGM Asset Management

In early 2015, the new Change department was created within PGGM Asset Management. Its purpose is to act as a sparring partner for the business with regard to changes, and to ensure that these are implemented quickly and professionally. There is still a long way to go, given the poor ambience within the department, unclear processes and roles, and below-par performance (including within VTWs).

Marc van den Berg and several decision-makers, together with &samhoud’s assistance, implemented an intensive change process in order to swiftly improve cooperation and performance. And it proved successful, yielding tangible results (see the diagram below). But it was a process that entailed learning through trial and error. This blog shares Marc’s thoughts on realising sustainable change.

How do you create a better understanding of the individual contribution to a change? How do you increase the score from a 6.0 to a 8.2? How do you increase ownership for a cumulative result within a department from a 3.8 to a 6.5? How do you ensure that the knowledge of the vision and strategic goals rises from a 7 to an 8?

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Seeing as this is a prerequisite for bringing about a successful change, this are merely some of the questions that can keep many a manager awake at night. Including me. Indeed, these very questions occupied me almost daily over the past six months. From January 2015 onwards, we implemented a major change process in the Change department within PGGM Asset Management, in collaboration with &Samhoud. Processes had to be redesigned and made more predictable and efficient. Cooperation between teams inside and outside the department had to be streamlined even further. Roles needed to be clarified. The culture had to be strengthened in relation to calling one another to account. These were significant change-related challenges, in other words, especially for a department with a relatively low level of confidence in change processes due to previous, negative experiences.

Nevertheless, the past half year has been successful. The diagram above reflects the actual figures of the Change department. In retrospect, I can therefore make a number of suggestions in response to the aforementioned questions as managing this change process provided me with new insights. What was my greatest insight with regard to my own role within the change process? Looking and listening are inextricably linked to sound decision-making. Managing is something you do not do with your head alone. Let me explain this to you in greater detail.

Take a look at what is happening outside and bring it into your department (and vice versa)

As a manager, you must make use of the opportunity to peer over the department’s walls and look at the entire organisation – and to look outwards, in other words. This prompted questions within me such as: how is our change related to the vision and strategy of PGGM? How can we reinforce chain cooperation? What other developments are occurring outside of PGGM? What is the future of the pension scene? And the key question: are we now doing the best for the client? This information is essential for a successful department, but at the same time also pointless if it remains at the top of the tower. That is why a manager should also descend, bring inside the information you saw outside, and engage in a dialogue. This immediately provides reciprocity: you are not only capable of bringing what is outside inside, but you also exemplify what is inside to the outside. We developed a change vision together with the management team and staff, and are also actively conveying this to our stakeholders outside the department.

Listen to your staff

One of the key success factors for this change was involving – and therefore listening to – my staff. It sounds simple, but really listening is something that is difficult to do in practice. Listening costs time, and time is of the essence. In addition, it can suddenly transpire that you are mistaken: that idea you came up with seated at your desk does not have to be the most suitable one for the actual situation. The staff sessions that &Samhoud facilitated were a wonderfully effective way for me to understand what is going on among employees and their ideas. Without these sessions I would never have realised that many old wounds still remained due to a previous, unsuccessful change, and that we had to start working on building trust. I would have probably also lacked a wealth of valuable input with respect to the entire process. “People who listen extensively and objectively also have the most to tell”, said Godfried Bomans, a popular Dutch author and TV personality.

Look at your employees to help them discover their own strengths

However, you won’t achieve this by merely listening. Another success factor for this change is getting the right people in the right place. This requires not only good listening skills, but also keen observational skills. How does someone walk around a department? What kind of image does someone reflect? What does someone say without actually talking? Understanding how someone sees things can often be read “between the lines”, and that insight has helped me tremendously in the development of a powerful team. Comprehending that requires practice and experience – and entails keeping your eyes wide open.

Look at mistakes differently and continue learning

Besides simply looking, you must also observe to obtain a different perspective. One of the first interventions we used was a behavioural change game. With the help of assignments, employees could familiarise themselves with a new way of working together, one of the key objectives of the change. Only three assignments were completed after four weeks. At first glance, a failure, in other words. But now I know that change is about making mistakes and learning from them. The only real mistake that you can make is to remain seated with blinkers on, instead of changing your perspective. I observed xxx new things: staff members started talking to each other without using traditional ways to engage in conversation. They found out how we deal with each other in the department. This initiated a dialogue and an awareness-raising process that then became the driving force behind further change. By looking from a new perspective, an apparent failure suddenly appears to be a success.

Look and listen – critically – at yourself

Looking at and listening to others attentively has contributed greatly to my role in this change process. But that is only one side of the coin. To transform the input from observation into wise decisions, you must be willing to look at and listen to yourself. In other words, reflect (look at yourself) and learn to trust your intuition (listen to yourself). And that is quite difficult because how do you know are not fooling yourself or adopting a perspective that is too narrow? I did so by organising ‘objectivity’. Martin Wijhe from HR and an &Samhoud consultant were my regular sparring partners. They acted as a critical mirror and shared valuable reflections from the perspective of an outsider. As a result, looking at and listening to myself together with others was something I did frequently.

Look out: ensure you are not in the way

The figures in the diagram above depict a significant increase in several areas, which is something I am proud of as a manager. I believe that using multiple perspectives has provided a valuable contribution. But I only played a small role in this change, of course. Ultimately, staff members will make the difference. My staff are currently drawing up a ‘2nd phase’ change plan themselves and are working on further optimisation. That truly is success. Inspire confidence, let go as soon that is possible, and look out that you are not standing in the way.

 

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