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Forced Change in an Outsourcing – guidelines for communicating to reduce resistance

Forced Change in an Outsourcing

Change Managers in an Outsource often assume that if the rationale for change is made clear to the people affected then change management is unproblematic and resistance negligible. People assume that if we rationally explain to the employees affected they will ‘buy-in’ to the process and thereafter work actively to realise the change or at least moderate their resistance to it. There is a assumption behind all this that changes are negotiated and developed over time and that the change agent’s task is but to make clear the imperatives and the people fall into place – communication mechanisms (usually Slide-Ware) are the main carriers of this type of intervention.

Whilst this approach has been roundly criticised for ignoring political and social aspects it is also more and more disturbed in major system changes. In outsourcing or mergers and acquisitions we are often faced with transitioning organisations within a strict deadline. Here the degrees of freedom are limited and failure to successfully implement can result in stiff penalties for time and cost overruns. In such circumstances our room for ‘negotiation’ is constrained as the change outcome is a given and the people affected are faced with a forced change.

Of interest to us as managers and consultants in such circumstances is how we support the change in particular minimising the business risk, defusing change resistance and avoiding long term damage to the organisation.

Forced change against a strict deadline is the reality and we also see that the complexity in a major change is increasing as many major programmes consist of several big initiatives in their own right. In one major change programme I worked on the client was disentangling from a parent company, implementing major systems changes, whilst outsourcing a part of the operational IT. All of these forcing substantial changes in role and responsibility right across the organisation and this programme also included the outsourcing of substantial parts of the finance function in a phase two.

Don’t forget Managers are affected by an Outsource as well…

At a management level change of status assumes high importance with any perceived loss in autonomy or the need to acquire new skills key aspects to consider. In another change programme the author was involved in the financial controller had a significant change in scope as a result of a system implementation and outsourcing which included loss of staff from her department. This resulted in much prevarication and concentration on detail, non-acceptance of the rational for change and question/problem raising that came over to the central project team as structural resistance.

Also don’t assume managers know how to support their staff through change – because they often do not. Special training and development is necessary. Also be sure that the management has bought in, in one case the stiffest resistance came from the team leader whose scepticism fed the resistance of the whole team being outsourced.

Three Key points in managing change communication

  • Relevant – We all know the value of clear communication but forget to caveat this with the need for relevancy. Exhortations of the value of the change at high level are useless unless made clearly relevant to the people affected. Unless the communication is explicitly tailored to the hearer’s specific needs general broadcasts will be discounted and perceived negatively.
  • Clear – Avoid the ‘Englishman on Holiday’ change communications approach – i.e. if they don’t understand speak slowly and louder! At a feedback meeting on the situation at a French manufacturing plant the consultants gave a withering overview of the impact of the various initiatives, changes and improvement programmes a major high technology company was imposing on the factory. The response to this from the company – “the management have not explained this clearly enough therefore ‘they’ do not understand it” – obviously they did not get the message either!.
  • Segmented – People in change need focused information – how does this new system affect me? Will I still have a job? Will I be able to cope – will they train me? This means communications must be relevant, focused and bespoke aimed at a segmented audience – don’t treat people as the same with the same vanilla information requirements.

Some interventions I have used

  • Local briefings at department or group level to strengthen team feelings of unity and develop focus on the task in hand.
  • Cutover process – form well managed meetings to act as resolution and solution forum to build for the change-over.
  • Tighter linkage to the change-over particularly for the management to expose the organisation to the task in hand and encounter change.
  • Activate processes to resolve/close personnel issues — close these issues managers often have difficulty in handling these.
  • Mentoring management to actively participate and lead change
  • Visible presence of change manager to emphasise the company’s commitment to making the change over
  • Reflect listen but not judge issues — allow self-reflection.
  • Ensure deployment communications is done (Watch for gate-keeping in one project when I checked the communications had got no further that the secretary)
  • Provide recognition of any process improvements ideas and try to push upwards any ideas the team has.
  • Recognise that resistance is a legitimate concern for the well-being of the business.
  • Ensure communication channels are open and deployed (again this is sometimes not done).
  • Hire a consultant to act as change focus (reflecting with support but not judging)
  • Tighter engagement of the organisation into the change process — they will switch to solve mode.

As an endnote — Know the limitations of rationally based change methods and avoid broadcast communication. Target and segment communications at the various groups in an organisation and you will be much more successful and managing communicating even bad news. When we design a marketing communications approach we segment our audience and focus messages at specific target groups – this is a lesson we could use within change management.


Involve people in change to reduce the resistance

Involve people in the change to reduce the resistance

Forced change against a strict deadline is now the reality for most changes and what we see more and more is that the complexity of change is increasing and many major programmes consist of several in their own right substantial change tasks.

In one of my jobs I had to advise a major European unit of a global company which had particular change issues that made their changeover within a global project have high perceived business risk. This unit for example had already gone through several changes of ownership in their recent past and was again heavily impacted by the new global program. Our first step was to understand how the change impacted on the group in some detail – on the departments and individuals within the business. Change needed to be thought ‘through’ not ‘about’ and the changes in role and tasks were worked through at a detailed level of granularity – and how these would change as the global project proceeded.

The intervention strategy we considered was based around thinking through what the ‘changed’ organisation’ would look like when the dust had settled. The patterns of communication, the new roles and responsibilities and the impact on individual tasks were considered and what the steps would look like to bridge the gap from the current situation to the future. We worked backwards from the desired state and forwards from the current to meet in the middle! This defined inter alia the changes in role and task, and the necessary training and coaching for the individuals. The transition was trickier, and this was handled by facilitating the transition cutover planning at group level. This acted to involve the organisation in the changeover (it’s on ‘its’ way!) and confronted them with the change and engaged them in participating in the design of the whole process. Getting them to define in detail their future roles and tasks as well as the timings were key aspects of this intervention. Further, interviews and group meetings around the changeover period itself allowed ‘voice’ to be given and concerns and issues to be fully surfaced.

Key learning points

Do not interpret all resistance as opposition to change. Opposition can often be a sign of interest in the outcome and an expression of legitimate concern Capture the concerns and rationale. It may be that someone has identified a flaw in our reasoning and may have identified a route to possible failure, perhaps from the last time this occurred. To find out why it did not work last time may reveal some interesting lessons. However, be cautious about agreeing with an issue as this may be interpreted as a sign that the change can be negotiated – capture without judgement.

The assumption that all employees will go through the same cycle of resistance is false and too simplistic. Often there are winners in a change process. Identify these and build coalitions to build a success culture. Furthermore, some departments or groups of people are more successful or more robust with handling change than others. Building on these departments within an organisation help bring the whole organisation along

We all know the value of clear communication but forget to include the need for relevant clear communication. Exhortations of the value of the change at high level are useless unless made clearly relevant to the people affected by the change. Unless the communication is made explicitly relevant to the employees specific needs they will switch off and ignore you.


People in an Outsource will respect a manager who is fair and honest

Can people in an outsourcing respect their manager for saying how it is but hate the organisation who are letting them go

I was thinking about outsourcing change management and the observation that those being outsourced often speak with respect about the boss delivering the message whilst being very hostile to the organisation actually forcing through the reorganisation. It has often happened to me when talking to people being outsourced that some managers or leaders are able to give bad news when it is necessary whilst still maintaining a good relation with their staff.

From a justice perspective, followers, or in this case the ones on the ‘receiving end’ of the outsourcing change, will judge the leadership exercised as to the degree which it is fair. That is leaders can motivate followers by following ‘fair procedures’ and followers can as a result become more supportive of the direction or goals being proposed and exercise good organisational citizenship – even when the goal being proposed is adversely affecting them.

This can be sharply contrasted if you think of a more distributive type of process where the person affected by the change only sees the instrumental issues – how the change is materially affecting them (loss of income or job for example). What this forces us to consider is how people apply different yardsticks when looking at an organisation’s position and how this can inform us why a person could simultaneously ‘respect’ the person who is communicating the bad news whilst keeping this distinct from poor justice perceived at an organisational level – or from another person or department elsewhere. I.e. is it seen as fair what the company is proposing as articulated by the manager compared to the way it is actually carried out at a company level. For example an outsource in order to gain cost advantages over an incumbent workforce would I suspect be judged adversely in a distributive justice sense, whereas a correct and fair application of the selection of the people affected by the outsource, as done by the manager, could be seen as procedurally fair if done with integrity – you would probably hear things like ‘he’s only doing his job’ or ‘he has no say in the matter’ but never the less ‘he’s a good chap.’

You could also take another view more directly related to identity and leadership: followers internalise the leaders perspective and construct an identity congruence to the leaders (buy in to the vision) and the issues around Identity in terms of the organisation (letting go and the processes involved in breaking the psychological contract) and constructing a new identity with the new organisation in outsourcing or ‘downsizing’. These types of processes also affect those left behind – i.e. be distanced from the organisation as a consequence of a poor outsource process. These sorts of processes could also help us ‘explain’ a differential response to the different players within an organisation (respect the manager but despise the organisation) – this is seen a lot in downsizing or outsourcing organisations people leave and organisation with a bitter taste in the mouth. It should not be forgotten that poorly outsourced people are probably lost as customers for the rest of their lives!

What this means is that the response of workers to an outsource can be greatly affected by the way messages and procedures are actually executed. A fair and equitable approach delivered by a well trained and respected manager can actually help in reducing resistance to change – in effect stopping causes of resistance at source.