How to Stick to Change
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…