October/November 2019

Change management – identifying the need for action

The fourth of our series of specialist speed lectures from the University of Salford’s Business School saw us interviewing Dr Kathy Hartley, programme lead for Post Graduate Human Resource Management, on the subject of change management. As a description, the definition of change management in itself can be a straightforward idea. Most business owners would have an instinctive grasp of the need to apply this to their business in order to progress, grow and prosper. However, the concept of change management as a teachable subject is one that needs a clear viewpoint on not just the key elements of the subject, but the efficacy of applying that teaching on real world businesses and organisations. We asked Kathy to give an overview of the subject and also the application of that knowledge base to business – particularly in the integration of students applying those teachings.

Kathy – please can you describe your role in the business school and your area of expertise?
“I’m a lecturer in people management which involves me teaching across people management, leadership and behavioural change modules. I’m also the academic lead for our masters courses in human resource management, responsible for the design of programmes.”

Please can you define what change management is?
“I would describe change management as a collection of processes and activities that cross disciplines. We are talking about behavioural science and project management as well – these are the two big areas that have impact on the subject. Leadership is a big part of all of that, encompassing processes and activities that are designed to help organisations think about their structures – for example their reporting relationships, job roles, who does what, ways of organising work and teams, plus, what we might call ‘general ways of working’ or ‘behaviours’ and how we socially interact with one another. This is where we link into the idea of culture – which becomes a big part of change management. In terms of academia I’d say that change management is an area that engages academics and practitioners – and many are what I’d call ‘pracademics’. Some of the big names within change management have started out as Harvard professors for example, who have become increasingly involved with organisations and then begun to shift their own thinking and models – as well as helping organisations shift too. It’s a collaborative effort as well as an academic area of practice.”

Can you tell us a little more about how business culture links with change management?
“Invariably when you are making change, whatever type of change that is, there is going to be some impact on people’s way of doing things. It often involves learning. As an example – learning about how we conduct ourselves, or how autonomous we are, or how an organisation might want to decentralise and get their workforce to start being more independent. Usually this is a behavioural change that results in a new group mindset, being defined as our culture, and the way we do things on a day to day basis. ‘Culture’ is quite a woolly or soft term, but we all have a sense of what it means, and it is something that becomes embedded over years.

“If we think about how a small organisation is set up, then the founders of that organisation will have their own sense of mission, purpose and values in what they do, and that will provide the foundation for an organisation. As that organisation grows, and as we think of the establishment of bigger organisations, we see that leadership changes (often on a fairly regular basis). However, culture is the mindset that is ingrained within a business, the existence of defined thought processes and ‘expectations’ of one another and ‘how we do things around here’. 

“It really links with what academics call the ‘psychological contract’. Whereas when we talk about the terms and conditions in a formal employment contract, which is fairly basic in terms of what it tells us about our job roles, the psychological contract begins with our first interactions with a business or organisation. The psychological contract tends to reflect the influence of the culture. From looking at websites and job adverts to interviews and beginning employment, we form impressions. It starts from there and is a mind-set of expectations. If we start making meaningful changes to the organisation, we also start to change that psychological contract too. It impacts on the way we think we should behave and our expectations – and a lot of that is so ingrained it is almost unconscious. So, if we do want change it’s really about changing people’s behaviour. A good example is customer interaction (a common but difficult area to start to shift).”

How does change management help businesses?
“As I have said, change management is a set of processes and activities. It is quite wide in terms of models developed by both academics and practitioners. They are like ‘recipes’, they guide for change but are not a blueprint to be slavishly followed. But, the act of change has itself changed. Once upon a time, organisations could plan ahead and think or anticipate the change in technology or equipment, but these days due to a more service-based economy and fast technological pace, change itself is far more ubiquitous
– and we are dealing with different types of problems.

“So, some organisations, for example those involved with healthcare or social care out in the community, are dealing with really ingrained issues and are trying to find new ways of working. This is where some of the older established models begin to lose their helpfulness and we start having to think more about collaboration, building coalitions, consulting and engaging with different sorts of stakeholders.”

Is this an ongoing process or is this something you can identify and actually deliver academically?
“In some areas you can identify it, for example where there is an external driver like a change in legislation that is coming, or supply issues – Brexit is a classic case – but for others it is an emerging situation and emergent change. This is particularly the case for big global organisations where they are sitting in complex markets. These organisations and businesses are rapidly dealing with issues with some areas being proactive but others
being reactive, and are having to adapt accordingly. Some areas are adaptive problems – where we haven’t worked out solutions – and that’s a very interesting area, like when we are looking at environmental issues. The public care sector and health organisations are also good examples of these problems – where we start to make changes and find things change again, or we start to intervene and find that things take on a life of their own. This is where we need a skilled group of people coming together – that’s the area of interest for me.”

How can a University – specifically Salford Business School – help with applying change management to a business or organisation?
“Because change management encompasses project management and behavioural sciences, we have academics across all those areas. We have expertise in strategic management, project management – for instance people with engineering backgrounds and so on. These are key areas, but we also have colleagues specialising in information systems and technology too. Many of our academics were in industry before entering academia, so we know it’s not all about the written word. They can consult and mediate, as well as provide communication and organisational learning to understand aspects of change.”

When is change management needed within a business? Are you able to look at a business and advise accordingly?
“We can absolutely provide this as a service, and many of our students are able to sit as an intern within a business or organisation to facilitate this. Our task is to academically enable them to identify a need for change management which would involve looking at ways to apply those changes. It can be our MBA or post-graduate students who can help, for example, a small business to review its position in the marketplace – and look at strategies to re-align that position to the advantage of that business.”

What specific areas are you looking at? Marketing? Methodologies within the business? Manufacturing?
“We cover a great range of areas of business that are all relevant to ensure the health of that business. For example, information systems – we have technology experts who specialise in cloud based technologies who can make massive differences to those systems. We also have academics with engineering, marketing, accounting and finance, procurement and supply-chain backgrounds too. A full range of services is on offer.

“With change management we often find we are delving into many of these areas concurrently, especially with complex situations, and we are unsure where the project will take us. We may also engage our legal colleagues who can help us address things such as ethical issues on the journey. It’s an interesting relationship between different areas and skillsets, and a holistic approach to problem solving is often the best way forward.”

Find out more about your opportunities to work with Salford Business School; contact Sam Wood on 0161 295 5361, or email s.e.wood@salford.ac.uk  www.salford.ac.uk/business-school