The environment for organisational change and the reasons for change

All of us have personal experience of change, or have driven change in our lives, organisations, departments or businesses. These are some of the lessons I have learned. The environment for change is critical.

I often start my leadership workshops with a clarification about the way we should treat each other during our time working together. Setting the ground rules or guiding principles helps those involved to to focus and hopefully begins to create an environment of trust.

Hugh Mackay in his book What makes us tick gives great guidance on the way Australians are driven. Mackay suggests that there are ten desires that drive us. Desires such as to be taken seriously, to belong, desire for control, for something to happen, for love, for our place, for something to believe in, to connect and be useful.

Looking at employees through these 10 desires allows a more inclusive view and a recognition and respect for their contributions. If leaders have a framework of seeing all employees as difficult and not interested in change then that sometimes means we misjudge our colleagues and employees and don't give them the opportunity to contribute.

Becoming the 19th Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police in April 2001 gave me the opportunity to draw on all my experience gained in the previous 30 years. I also knew that the most important thing to do was to draw on the long experience of the organisation, on its history, its failures and successes, and the willingness of many people to think about the way the future could be better. I knew there were many people in the organisation who believed we could be much better than we were.

Why the reasons for change are important

There are many reasons for an organisation to consider change. A new appointment like my own, a major crisis, a push for renewal, budget cutbacks, new research, new challenges, change of direction or simply better ways that things could be done.

One of the things to remember is that people need a good reason to get involved in change. They might not like the reason but by at least articulating it or better still them articulating the need, we will have a base to understand what they might be facing and, more importantly, why.

Over my time in Policing, a number of issues caused change, Corruption, budgetary constraints, human resource issues, rising crime rates and a recognition that members of the organisation needed to be better managed and led.

The 2009 Victorian bushfires massively impacted many peoples lives. They lost loved ones, their homes, businesses, their communities. Many took years to come to terms with their losses, many were unwilling to change, but in this case they had no options available to them to avoid radical changes to their lives.

I remember once trying to convince a group of senior police in New South Wales to consider a new way of working with communities. At the end of the presentation one very senior police officer said that according to what I had just presented, all of his career had been a waste of time. I told him that's not what I said, but his response was, "That's what I heard". A lesson learned from this short conversation was to be careful about treading on the past to get to the future. A recognition that we are all of our own time helps both the initiator of change and those involved to understand each others perspective.

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