How to Stick to Change

The Economic Times - - The Edit Page - Ab­hishek Goel & Amit Gupta

Or­gan­i­sa­tional lead­ers of­ten grap­ple with mov­ing their mem­bers to changed con­di­tions. They have to lead sev­eral bat­tles of man­ag­ing var­ied stake­holder ex­pec­ta­tions. This is not only to an­swer ques­tions on change, but also to counter en­trenched neg­a­tive at­ti­tudes re­gard­ing lead­er­ship ac­tions and or­gan­i­sa­tion sys­tems and pro­cesses.

A change ef­fort be­comes ex­tremely dif­fi­cult in a cul­ture of con­stant sus­pi­cion, bick­er­ing, sec­ond-guess­ing, ru­mour-mon­ger­ing, and ac­tive and pas­sive re­sis­tance to­wards change. Such be­hav­iours have been stud­ied un­der the con­cep­tual ban­ner of or­gan­i­sa­tional cyn­i­cism. It is de­fined as a neg­a­tive at­ti­tude that mem­bers have to­ward their or­gan­i­sa­tion, its man­age­ment and its sys­tems and pro­cesses. It ex­ists at the lev­els of thoughts, emo­tions and ac­tions.

Cyn­i­cism is mag­ni­fied in a coun­try fac­ing di­ver­sity on mul­ti­ple di­men­sions: caste, re­gion­al­ism, lan­guage, re­li­gion, gen­der, ur­ban-ru­ral di­vi­sions, dif­fer­ences in up­bring­ing and vari­a­tions in qual­ity of ed­u­ca­tion. These dif­fer­ences are of­ten car­ried inside the or­gan­i­sa­tions and af­fect their func­tion­ing. The cu­mu­la­tive ef­fect is of­ten a dis­en­gaged or cyn­i­cal work­force.

Or­gan­i­sa­tional pro­cesses and man­age­rial ac­tions over time shape em­ploy­ees be­liefs and trust in the sys­tem. Some in­di­vid­u­als may be pre­dis­posed to­wards neg­a­tiv­ity. Con­di­tions for spi­ralling neg­a­tiv­ity ap­pear when man­agers fail to ex­hibit con­sis­tency and ex­plain the ra­tio­nale of their ac­tions.

Their in­abil­ity to ar­tic­u­late and present their chal­lenges re­sults in per- cep­tions of in­jus­tice at­trib­uted to the po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment of the or­gan­i­sa­tion. Con­se­quently, or­gan­i­sa­tional mem­bers de­velop a gen­eral dis­trust of ev­ery ac­tion, be­liev­ing that their or­gan­i­sa­tions are not just. Such peo­ple have an ideal view of how or­gan­i­sa­tions should work that are not grounded in op­er­a­tional and so­cial re­al­i­ties.

At times, or­gan­i­sa­tions, in their hurry to im­ple­ment changes, end up vi­o­lat­ing the psy­cho­log­i­cal con­tract with em­ploy­ees. Roles get ex­panded and op­por­tu­ni­ties as­signed based on per­sonal pref­er­ences of the lead­ers rather than on proper skill as­sess­ment.

Un­der­de­vel­oped ap­praisal and tal­ent man­age­ment sys­tems re­sult in dis­pro­por­tion­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties be­ing given to a select group of peo­ple based on sim­i­lar­i­ties of re­gion, lan­guage, ed­u­ca­tion, up­bring­ing, re­li­gion or caste rather than on merit or cri­te­ria of eq­ui­table dis­tri­bu­tion across sim­i­larly qual­i­fied or­gan­i­sa­tional mem­bers. Man­agers may not be con­scious of their bi­ases. This ends up re­in­forc­ing dis­trust, cyn­i­cism and feel­ings of in­jus­tice and or­gan­i­sa­tional politics.

Or­gan­i­sa­tional cyn­i­cism has to be dealt with at the level of in­di­vid­u­als, sys­tems and pro­cesses while ad­her­ing to the prin­ci­ples of or­gan­i­sa­tional jus­tice. Lead­ers need to model be­haviou- rs and pro­mote a cul­ture that val­ues open­ness, par­tic­i­pa­tion, en­gage­ment and trust. They need to per­son­ally ad­dress is­sues that deal with vi­o­la­tions of ac­cepted psy­cho­log­i­cal con­tract.

Any changes re­quired in psy­cho­log­i­cal con­tracts should be openly and ex­plic­itly dealt with through a shared di­a­logue and fair pro­cesses that ex­plain de­ci­sions. There should be a con­certed ac­tion of align­ing or­gan­i­sa­tional pri­or­i­ties, in­di­vid­ual goals, col­lec­tive work­ing and build­ing trust of peo­ple in the or­gan­i­sa­tion and its pro­cesses.

Or­gan­i­sa­tional sys­tems and pro­cesses that deal with per­for­mance and ca­reer man­age­ment, com­pen­sa­tion and work as­sign­ments have the great­est im­pact on per­cep­tions of jus­tice and cyn­i­cism. Or­gan­i­sa­tions need to en­sure that these sys­tems are hon­est, just, open and re­al­is­tic.

Man­agers should ex­hibit be­hav­iours that are fair, open, par­tic­i­pa­tive and en­gage all em­ploy­ees. Per­for­mance man­age­ment sys­tems should seek feed­back on bi­ases of man­agers re­lated to their be­hav­iours, work as­sign­ment and treat­ment of em­ploy­ees. Any short­com­ings should be dealt with in a fair man­ner. In­di­vid­u­als found to have a per­son­al­ity trait of cyn­i­cism need to be given sup­port­ive feed­back and coun­selled pro­fes­sion­ally over a pe­riod of time.

Fi­nally, any re­sis­tance or ques­tion­ing should not be la­belled as cyn­i­cism. Some de­gree of cyn­i­cism can serve as a re­al­ity check on or­gan­i­sa­tions. But be­yond a point, it be­comes coun­ter­pro­duc­tive. The pur­pose is to pro­mote healthy con­struc­tive ques­tion­ing that cre­ates en­gaged work­places ready to take on the chal­lenges of the fu­ture.

This ad­vice is eas­ier given than im­ple­mented. Or­gan­i­sa­tions need to work con­stantly and con­sis­tently over long pe­ri­ods of time to en­sure that they are seen as be­ing just and trust­wor­thy by in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal stake­hold­ers.

Goel is as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor, IIM-Cal­cutta, and Gupta is for­mer fac­ulty mem­ber, IIM-Ban­ga­lore

The more things changed…

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