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When Hunter Harrison joined the recently-privatized Canadian National Railway (CNR) in 1998 as Chief Operating Officer, the company was generally acknowledged as one of the worst railroads in North America, highly indebted, perpetually in the red, and losing market share to the more efficient, flexible and newly deregulated U.S. railway and trucking industries.
Can you recall a time when you experienced a major change in your organization? Perhaps like others around you, you experienced a roller coaster of emotions: excitement that at long last something was going to happen to change the status quo, confusion about the specifics of the intended changes, and anxiety about what it could mean for you, your team, and even your family. Change can be disruptive, both professionally and personally.
The Importance of Communication for Effective Change Management: A Case Study About the ‘Made in Cogeco’ Change Model
Working in the telecommunications industry, people assume that we are ahead of the curve in terms of change initiatives and communication practises. But similar to other companies, we are challenged to come up with our own change management processes within our organization. Our industry is changing rapidly, and that means we need to change too. In this article, I will share how Cogeco developed a new change model quite quickly to respond rapidly and succinctly to the transformational trends in our industry.
Most experts would agree that communication is a vital ingredient in successful change initiatives, and there is much research to support this assertion. My own research revealed a very high correlation between change success and communications efforts (Pearson correlation r = 0.567, significant at the 0.01 level). Furthermore, it has also been shown that ineffective internal communication is a major contributor to the failure of change initiatives.
Dealing with resistance is tough work, but avoiding this work only makes change more difficult. When facing major change, management tends to view the new direction as an opportunity, while employees face the change with feelings of uncertainty, fear and disruption. Furthermore, most change leaders underestimate the amount of resistance they will face. However, as this case shows, external conditions, trust in the organization, and skillful handling of resistance can all contribute to lessening resistance and increasing support for a change initiative.
After you know who will lead a change initiative, why the change is necessary and what future you are trying to create, you come to the “how”—the activities you must plan to implement the change successfully. This is tough work because of the countless details that must be thought through and included in a change rollout plan. Forget something crucial here, and your change may be in jeopardy, as is highlighted in the following case study.
Most experts advocate creating a vision as a necessary step in any change initiative. But managers have a tough time following this advice. Change vision statements are often too long, too confusing or too generic to motivate action in the direction of the change. It's tough to condense the vision into a couple of sentences or paragraphs that sing, but it is worthwhile to try. A clear vision is important for change leaders to think through because it forces you to identify exactly what you are aiming for instead of some vague, fuzzy or rosy picture of the future.
The statistics about the implementation of change in organizations are dismal. For decades now, business writers from all walks of life have been bemoaning the large failure rate of change projects. For example, one study reported that 70 percent of critical change efforts fail to achieve their intended results. Additionally, more executives are fired for mismanaging change than other reasons, such as ignoring customers.
The literature on change management contains a lot of advice about formulating a change idea and planning it at a high level but much less on how to implement the idea once it has been created. For example, although strategy implementation is viewed as an integral part of the strategic management process, little has been written or researched on it. Likewise, in the public sector there is a great deal of advice on how to formulate public policy, and many academic courses teach this.
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