Dealing With Change and Innovation in the Workplace

Tanya J. Montague

Making changes means ‘making or becoming different’ – you are either introducing something new, or altering something that already exists.

Changing something means you are leaving your comfort zone. You are used to doing things a certain way and for certain reasons and when this changes you tend to resist, saying ‘but we’ve always done it this way and it works fine’. But do you really know how or why the changes have come about? Change, if implemented thoughtfully, can be a positive thing as we will demonstrate in this chapter.

We are constantly experiencing change – both in the workplace and at personally:

In the workplace

Changes in technology affect us all differently; think of the changes in the way we work today using business equipment such as computers, internet, email, ATM, online conferencing, and the portability of communications

They promised us a paperless office (although it hasn’t quite happened yet!) and we now have systems in place to store our information on a micro chip no bigger than your thumb nail – you used to fill a filing cabinet with the same amount of information. Computers have also ensured that making bookings for services and keeping track of people and stock etc much quicker and easier.

We can save enormous amounts of time doing business online which saves on effort, cost (envelopes, paper, stamps) and it’s quick and convenient.

In your personal life

Think about what changes have taken place in your personal life.

  • Taking a training course (you do this to change your prospects or your knowledge levels)
  • Moving house (why do you do this?)
  • Changing jobs (why do you do this?)
  • Leaving school and entering the workforce(how do you cope with this?)
  • “Throwing out your favourite old shoes!!!” (why do you do this?)

How often do these changes occur? Whatever the reason for the change you are altering the current state of operation.

For a change to take place effectively and with as little disruption or trauma as possible, you need to approach the issue systematically:

You (or your managers) need to:

  • assess the need for change – what is currently happening and why isn’t it working anymore?
  • research what needs to be done – look at the steps you need to take (in logical order) to get from where you are now to where you want to be.
  • look for potential problems with the new procedure and seek solutions.
  • obtain feedback and input from relevant staff from a variety of departments
  • implement the change – introduce the new plan, process or system to all concerned and provide any necessary training to staff
  • evaluate the effectiveness of the change – iron out any problems and determine if the new process or system is actually doing what it is supposed to.

For example, when you move house;

Firstyou assess the need for change;

  • you’ve got more kids and the house is too small
  • you can afford a better neighbourhood
  • you are being transferred to a new city/country etc

Secondyou determine what kind of house would now suit you. You:

  • look at houses in the right area
  • look at houses the right size
  • check for landrate costs etc
  • look how close transport, shops and schools are, etc
  • find out about moving costs

Third, you move!

Finallyyou settle in to your new house and take care of all the things you couldn’t do before you moved:

  • adding additional power points
  • knocking out the wall between the family room and the dining room
  • modernising the kitchen etc.

Change starts with dissatisfaction.

All changes come about due to satisfaction with the current state of being. For example;

Personal (influenced by you). You might be dissatisfied with your;

  • Clothes
  • Hair
  • House
  • Partner
  • Furniture

Work (influenced by you)

  • Department you work in.
  • Job
  • Work area

Supervisory (influenced by others)

  • Work procedure
  • Work environment
  • Equipment
  • Other staff

Management (influenced by others)

  • Company structure
  • Introduction of new product / service
  • Introduction of new policies
  • New owners / managers (new broom – change for change sake)
  • Customers requirements
  • Market trends

If there is dissatisfaction with the current state of play and you or your supervisors or managers start looking for a better way to do things.

Reasons for change within the workplace

Although all changes are usually caused by EXTERNAL influences, it can be said that there are two change motivators that a business is subjected to:

  • Internal motivators (proactive)
  • External motivators (reactive)

Internal change is motivated by:

  • the need for or the introduction of new systems
  • expansion of the product or service line
  • the need to review current processes that are no longer productive
  • setting of new goals and strategies
  • expansion into new markets
  • the addition of new major accounts & customers
  • change in the office – new furniture, equipment change of location

and more.

Many of these can also be driven by external influences, in order to satisfy product or service demand but if the change is undertaken as a result of extensive research and before the need for the change becomes a negative business factor then this is proactive and positive.

External change is motivated by:

  • competitors may have made positive changes to their procedures or improved their product / services that now impact on your business in a negative way.
  • the introduction of new or identification of recent legislation that means a major change in the way you market or distribute your products or services. For example many years ago the government introduced new legislation with very strict guidelines on the advertising and packaging of tobacco products.
  • market trends are shifting. For example people are now much more health conscious than ever before. This has had an enormous impact (positive) on a range of businesses.

Many of these changes are forced upon us due to these external influences. If they were anticipated, researched and acted upon before they had a negative impact on us, then we were being proactive. If these changes were not anticipated, researched and acted upon then we are merely making a change because we have to or because everyone else is doing it and this is reactive. Reacting to a market driven change (after the fact) can be costly and stressful as it usually allows no time for re-tooling, communicating with customers and staff etc.

Change Management

Managing change is about a well researched and thought out, step by step approach to introducing something new to your company. Issues when considering a change include;

  1. Where you are now?
  2. Where do you want to be in the future?
  3. How are you going to get there?

Managing change effectively, then, is about

Taking a good look at where you are at present;

1. Your procedures

  • your products/services
  • customer satisfaction levels
  • you competitiveness
  • your sales figures and profit margins
  • your productivity and efficiency etc

2. Determining what it is about your current state that is not working, or unsatisfactory and deciding what needs to be changed in order to be more

3. Deciding what steps you need to take to move from the present, unsatisfactory, state to the new efficient and more profitable state.

Much of this means discussing the issues with your colleagues and gaining their input and support. Advantages and disadvantages of making the change (or not making the change) should be discussed with relevant staff members and the consequences of each action to be taken should be thoroughly talked through. This is important as, once the ball starts rolling and things are put into action, it may be hard to stop or change the direction. So it pays to be sure about what you are doing and that:

  • relevant staff have been consulted and asked for input
  • perceived problems are worked through and solved so that implementation of the change can go ahead smoothly.

Participants for projects involving innovation and change should ideally be chosen from a broad range of divisions within the company, choosing staff who are relevant to the project. Who is chosen from each area of the company will depend on a person’s track record, their ability to be open-minded and fair thinking, their ability to keep the project moving in a forward direction and their ability to communicate the new processes and/or procedures to their work mates.

No two people will view a problem, a change or a project in quite the same way, so there is room for disagreement and conflict. Bearing that in mind management should select only a limited number of staff from a variety of areas to help in the change process. This ensures that;

  • all relevant areas of the company have an input into the entire process.
  • confusion is avoided by having too many opinions

Why Change Management is necessary.

Every change that is made in the workplace is different.

Some changes can be very small for example:

  • changing the wording or the layout of a company form
  • getting a new fax machine for the office.
  • putting on a new staff member

Some changes can be large and complex

  • restructure of a department, or the entire company
  • adding a new product or service
  • upgrading the company’s computer or telephone systems.

Regardless of whether it is a small or large change, the transition from old to new will flow more smoothly if the change that needs to take place is carefully considered and managed.

The purpose of change management is to focus on providing excellent performance within the organisation with as little disruption as possible. It helps you to:

  • focus on the issues at hand
  • avoid any pitfalls along the way
  • reduce staff resistance to the changes to be made
  • increase productivity and efficiency
  • plan a pathway towards a smooth transition
  • identify communication and training issues that need to be addressed

Methods by which change occurs

Deciding what changes need to be made, and why, is essential. After all ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it…!‘ Consider product brands that have been around for a long time like McDonald’s or Coke. These brands have been in existence for manymanyyears and are instantly recognisable around the world. How have they managed to remain successful for so long when other companies have failed? Quite simply they have their fingers on the pulse of consumer demand and have made changes as and when necessary.

Proactive management of why, when and how a change should occur in an organisation can be undertaken in a number of ways including;

Regular research. This is something that every business should undertake on an annual basis in order to;

  • stay in touch with consumer demands
  • assess their productivity
  • assess their profitability
  • compare themselves with their competitors

Research can take many forms. Two of the main types of research are:

Primary research.

This is information you have gathered yourself first hand. You can do this by;

  • Getting customers and/or staff to complete survey forms. These can be forms that ask a set of questions that customers or staff can fill in while they are in your office or mailed out to their homes. The questions you ask can vary from survey to survey and will depend on what it is you want to find out.
  • Inviting customers or staff to ‘Focus’ sessions. This is where small groups of staff or customers spend time with you (perhaps over snacks and drinks) for general discussion about a variety of issues surrounding your business.

Types of questions you could ask in your survey or focus session could include:

  • Should you continue to offer a certain product (sales may be down)?
  • Should you introduce a new product or service?
  • Are customers / staff happy with certain aspects of your business?
  • What are you doing well?
  • What could you be doing better?

Secondary Research.

Secondary research is information that has been gathered by someone outside of your organisation. Possible sources of secondary research include;

  • Government departments
  • Local Council
  • Australian Bureau of Statistics
  • Industry associations
  • Internet
  • Chamber of Commerce etc.

The type of information you can get from these sources include:

  • area demographics such as average age and gender of local residents, types of occupations of local residents, where they shop, what the average income per resident is and so on.
  • economic trends such as latest employment figures, retail trends and so on.
  • legislative issues

Business analysis.

Another method of discovering the possible need for change is to do a SWOT Analysis of your organisation. SWOT stands for.

Strengths;These are the areas in which your organisation shines! They are areas that you can build on to make them more solid and would perhaps only require minor changes.

Weaknesses;These are things that your organisation needs to work on. They are areas open to attack by your competitors (pointing out your weaknesses to potential customers). Weaknesses should be viewed as opportunities for improvement. A weakness, once recognised, can be dealt with in order to overcome it and possibly then be turned into a strength. This is where your research will play an important role;

  • What is the weakness?
  • Why does it exist?
  • What can you do to overcome it?

Opportunities; Research and a keen understanding of your business environment will show up opportunities that are available to your organisation. Typical areas of opportunity could include;

  • new economic, social or cultural trends open up possible new markets
  • new government legislation could make new things possible.
  • new technology might increase your market exposure and effectiveness etc

Threats; A threat is anything, within your business environment that will stop you from doing what you need to do and could include:

  • a new competitor
  • new legislation that threatens the way you currently do things
  • new technology – everyone has it but you…

A SWOT Analysis allows you to take a close look at the organisation and builds an accurate picture of what, if anything, needs to changed.

Problem needs resolving. Problems within an organisation can be fairly obvious or they may be hidden below the surface (and we’ve simply always put up with them). They often only come to light during your analysis of the organisation. Having identified the problem something then needs to be done to solve it. Problems can;

  • affect productivity
  • drive customers away
  • drive staff away
  • incur unnecessary costs
  • incur legal penalties or fines

The process of change planning then commences;

  • what exactly is the problem?
  • What causes the problem?
  • What needs to happen to make it better?

Communicating the Change

Having done all the research as to what changes need to be made, involved appropriate staff to discuss what needs to be done and how it is to be done, resolved any issues with the implementation process and so on you now need to let the rest of the organisation’s staff know what is going to happen.

You will need to:

  • Explain the process. How did the need for the change came about? Who was involved in the planning? How were decisions arrived at – and finally what the plan is
  • What the new procedures will be
  • What training staff will receive
  • What time frames will apply to the change
  • How the implementation will affect everyone’s daily work routine and so on.

It is important to be honest about the ups and downs. There may well be tricky times ahead so it’s best to let people know in advance and clarify any issues or questions they may have. Make the plan easy to understand by being clear and concise.

Communication methods can include;

  • staff information sessions where a presentation is done to the whole staff by supervisors or managers – perhaps including slides and diagrams where staff can then ask questions.
  • memos outlining the new procedures and giving details on how each department is involved.
  • staff meetings – many organisations have weekly departmental meetings to discuss general business issues. They present an ideal venue for updating staff on new procedures.

If done thoughtfully changes to an organisation can be affected with a minimum of upheaval and resistance and can provide a stable and more secure platform for the company’s future.

Resistance to change.

A common mistake made by managers when implementing change is that this change will always be viewed in an unemotional, rational manner. The truth is, however, that change is an emotive subject with most people and while they might feel apathetic about change, rarely is there no emotional response at all.

This is because change involves two extremely emotive events:

  • an ending and
  • a beginning

An ending means that some part of your life, the way you’ve done things, is about to come to a conclusion. You are about to be taken out of your comfort zone and placed into a situation that, while it might be better, is unfamiliar. It therefore often engenders fear of the unknown for example:

  • Will I be able to perform these new tasks properly?
  • What will happen if I can’t do this?

A beginning means that you must move on to something new. This is often traumatic, as it means (hopefully) new training and there is an initial period where you are not quite as sure of yourself as you previously were. This puts a dent in your self esteem and can cause negative reactions.

Why do people resist change

Most people will resist change because they;

  • fear they may lose their job
  • don’t understand the need for the change
  • believe it may demote their position
  • others try to tell them what to do, how to run their lives
  • others act superior to them and make them feel insignificant
  • don’t trust their management
  • they have not been consulted about the change and the processes

Emotional Intelligence

A person’s emotions have the potential to serve them as a delicate and sophisticated internal guidance system. The way you feel about something will determine your physical and mental reaction to it. Emotions are a valuable source of information and help you make decisions. When you are feeling uncomfortable with a situation or a person it is your emotions that raise the alarm and induce you to be cautious and so on.

We all have basic emotional needs – for example we need to feel respected and accepted. We need to be taken seriously. In a workplace situation we feel uncomfortable when our emotional needs are not met. If decisions are made about our immediate work environment and we have not been consulted or advised in advance we feel angry and perhaps even resentful. The depths of these emotions will vary from one person to another – one person might feel much more strongly about an issue than another – but they all need to be taken into account when looking at making major alterations to a given situation, personal or work related.

Emotional consequences

Feelings of having been disrespected, ignored or of rejection etc can lead to extremely negative consequences. The initial emotion over a situation can turn into anger, resentment and bitterness and can, in worst case scenarios, lead to feelings of revenge and needing to take a negative action.

While it is not possible for the organisation’s management to consult with every single employee it is very important for them to keep staff informed of what is happening within the organisation and to encourage suggestions.

In this way

  • all staff are shown respect
  • staff are aware of issues involving their work area
  • staff could contribute to the process by making useful suggestions
  • management can move forward with their plans in a more positive way.

There will still be people who will be discontent with the changes to be made but this is a fact of human nature and has to be accepted.

How you can contribute to change and innovation.

In order to actively contribute to change, everyone needs to understand the realities of change:

  • change will disrupt how you currently work.
  • the changes may take a long time – possibly longer than first thought
  • change will not remove all the current problems. In the short term, they may create more – until things have settled
  • it is normal to be concerned about proposed changes and to have some doubts
  • there will be hiccups and glitches and you may go off track sometimes.

Accepting that there will be hardships, the important thing is to actively contribute to the changes; to strive for exceptional outcomes, to be flexible and tolerant and to always keep the desired outcome in mind.

  • don’t be afraid to make suggestions. If you can see a need for improvement or know a better way of doing a job you should feel free to say so.
  • assist to communicate the change
  • help others in the workplace understand the meaning of the proposed change
  • help with the change transition
  • seek and give input
  • offer general support


  • Change means having to do things in different ways to the one you are used to.
  • For change to take place effectively, you need to; assess the need for the change, research what needs to be done, plan the change process, implement the change and finally evaluate the effectiveness of the change.
  • Change starts with dissatisfaction with the way things are currently done
  • Reasons for change can be internal such as new equipment, products or systems, or external including competitor driven changes, government legislation, market trends and so on.
  • Managing change effectively means a) looking at where you are now, b) knowing where you want to be and c) planning how to get from a to b with the least amount of stress, resistance and loss of business.
  • Change can occur; when market trends shift, to resolve consistent problems, there is a change of management or ownership and so on.
  • People resist change because they are worried they won’t be able to cope with the new procedures, to protect their jobs, because they don’t understand what is going on and so on.
  • To contribute to change and innovation you need to; assist in communicating the changes to other staff members, help others understand why the change is necessary and what it means to them, giving support and help where needed.

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