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Making Change Management Work in Asia

As change management becomes an almost constant process for many big firms, HR teams have an important role to play in helping leaders manage change; this model requires some tweaking in Asian countries

The past five years have seen a lot of change for the world’s companies, and it’s not likely to slow down any time soon. In fact, more than 70% of companies expect to undertake even more change management projects in the next three years than they are right now.

And yet the majority of CEOs (73%) expect their corporate HR teams to implement change faster than they did three years ago. While this may sound difficult enough, not only will HR teams have to do things more quickly, they’ll need to improve the most worrying statistic of all: that right now only 34% of organizational restructuring initiatives are a clear success, according to CEB data.

All in all, change is harder to manage than in the past, and it often falls to HR to manage it. And in Asian business regions, where M&A deals are still being cut faster than elsewhere in the world, there are even more reorganizations, change leadership, and restructuring, going on than elsewhere.

Process Only Gets you So Far

There’s a good reason for heads of HR and their teams being frequently asked to manage big change initiatives, as firms need their employees to quickly and effectively change how they work.

But, simply dictating decisions to them will only result in wasted time and effort. Instead of change coming from the top down, “open source change” uses people’s diverse skills, experience, and knowledge of the entire workforce to plan and implement change. Open source change involves a co-created strategy that incorporates thinking from all levels, employee ownership of change implementation planning, and communications that focus on talking instead of telling.

Three Steps for HR Leaders in Asia

Shifting from top down to open source change can be a big cultural adjustment. The first step is to help managers prepare their staff. HR leaders should do three things.

  1. Shift from closed to inclusive decision-making: Train senior leaders on how and when they should include employees more in decision-making, and guide managers on how to make inclusive decisions at a team level.

  2. Let employees own implementation planning: Communicate the critical, non-negotiable outcomes necessary for the change to be successful, but allow employees to determine how they will achieve them.

  3. Focus communications on talking, not telling: Provide questions that help managers think through how change looks in their context—do not simply provide change messages for them to repeat.

In Asia it’s even more important to balance this carefully, because staff will typically take a more cautious approach to asking questions or voicing disagreement than their Western counterparts and, for an open source approach to work, managers must make staff feel comfortable enough to share their opinion.

Finally, HR teams should help leaders understand that they shouldn’t simply try to make people happy. It’s an impossible task. Instead, they should communicate the clear goal that they are hoping to achieve with the change, and make sure their teams are prepared for what the change will entail – even if they’re not happy about it.

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One Response

  • Sid says:

    In an Asian context, change is now a constant. Some key reasons why change initiatives fail can be attributed to the following :-
    a. Lack of specificity of intent. Often, a picture is presented of the outcome but milestones of getting there are left to functional and individual plans. Thus ambiguity of purpose and intent leads to confusion and chaos.
    b. Change is often presented as a new workway or change in role. Again, what needs to be done gets higher emphasis without a coping mechanism during the transition process.
    c. Change is not a universal phenomenon. It needs to address the issues and of challenges specific to organisation leves and function. Here again, the communication plan is generic and misses out the feeling aspects of discomfort.
    d. At an individual level, change triggers uncertainty and fear of failure. This leads to high degree of resistance.This is coupled with increased work due to managing regular routine and new initiative in parallel. The systems and processes old and new run in parallel making work difficult. This leads to conflict in priorities.

    Change can work when work becomes simpler, and people can actually see how their professional and personal aspirations get fulfilled or protected by a short term trade off.

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