The deeper I get into the business of managing change, the deeper my conviction becomes that you must have the blindness of a fool or the quiet wisdom of an angel to succeed. That point was powerfully driven home during the two-day Forum organized by TMS Development in Dublin, Ireland, which brought together 20 international change management consultants from different parts of the world to exchange views and share expertise on the challenges we face in the course of our work.
TMS Development International develops and produces a suite of sophisticated instruments designed by Dick McCann and Charles Margerison to assist consultants in change management, organizational development, human resources management and training and development work. With offices in the USA, UK, Australia and Europe, TMS management considers bringing together consultants from around the world in such a forum of utmost importance in promoting the exchange of ideas and the advancement of the systems.
Twenty consultants specializing in managing change around the world and working with both the public and private sectors gathered together. I was the only delegate from the Middle East and the title of my presentation was Managing Change in a Re-emerging Economy: a Case Study from the Lebanese Banking Sector.
The Forum provided the opportunity for us as change management consultants to exchange views and experiences with one another on the diverse projects we have worked on, further strengthen our international network, build stronger bridges for communication and collegial support using the internet or arranging collaborative projects where we can provide complementary expertise. I would like to focus on some of the issues that were raised and that have direct bearing on our current situation in Lebanon. All ‘change’ processes, regardless of the label, (downsizing, upsizing, transforming, restructuring, re-engineering or re-inventing) have one thing in common: they all impact the lives of people in the organization at all levels. The impact may be for the better or the worse, depending on how the issues being tackled are managed. It is certain that change processes require people to behave differently, establish new relationships, acquire new skills and continue learning throughout their professional lives.
Change management consultants also play an important role in facilitating the integration processes vital to the successful conclusion of mergers and acquisitions. They help individuals in the public and private sectors refocus or change careers or even adapt to leaving one kind of job or organization and accepting another, or taking on a completely new role. In brief, change management consultants deal with the human and organizational dimensions of change in all phases and at every level within organizations undergoing developments or transformations.
Public sector issues that were raised during the forum and that are relevant to us in Lebanon are: Making Sense of Your Career in a Changing Environment, Developing Private Sector Management Skills within a Civil Service Culture, and what statistical analysis of work preferences can tell us about Professional Patterns in the Office of National Statistics. The unifying theme was the need for a leaner, more accountable civil service modeled along the lines of private sector productivity. The changes to be integrated are: the need to give up the idea of a job-for-life in the civil service; civil servants now need to think, work and continuously develop themselves to keep jobs that are becoming scarcer and scarcer. Second, managers must work with their staff to develop their skills and empower them to view their roles not as caretakers, but as individuals responsible for the input, output and outcomes – i.e., what they put into their jobs, the results they produce and the effect this has on the people receiving the service.
What was apparent from these presentations is the effort that is being invested in changing the traditional approach to civil service work and civil service expectations so that people now see themselves as ‘servants of the people’ who must deliver quality service to citizens. The civil service employee cannot expect to keep a job unless the results of the work done justify the resources invested in the production. The achievement of this new mind-set is considered a very difficult task in countries like England and Ireland and highly challenging in places like Hungary and Poland.
I asked myself what words could be used to describe the colossal difficulties we face in Lebanon? We not only have to change details but need to leap across a 50-year time gap created by the war and the local mind-set. We need to bring our facilities up to date; we have to rebuild from scratch all that was destroyed; we must bridge the information and technological gulf imposed by years of isolation; we must review our laws and regulations, modify and modernize them, and most difficult of all, we need to work on attitudes and behaviors that hold us back from achieving our full potential individually and collectively.
On the private sector issues, the topics tackled were linked to strategies for handling global competition by forming new professional partnerships; the redefinition of corporate missions and the translation of these into improved performance and greater profits; ways of unlocking a team’s creativity and innovation potential and turning it into competitive advantage for the company; using influencing skills to sell change within organizations and several other issues directly relevant to the needs of our own situation in Lebanon.
Do we need anything like this in Lebanon? Yes, we are hungry for progress, innovation, success, modernization, world-class standards in what we produce and high profit margins to go along with them, but many seem to want to achieve all this without any pain at all. No matter how smart we work there will be a fair dose of pain and hard labor in getting where we want to be in our businesses. Are we ready to accept the things that these changes will impose on us? As we approach the challenges of managing change in our organizations we will face some monumental obstacles. How should we face them? Have the blind optimism of a ‘fool,’ taking the matter lightly and expecting that things will eventually work themselves out without the cost of our full commitment, total focus and unwavering dedication to a crystal clear mission? Or should we approach the management of change with the wisdom, patience and goodwill of an ‘angel’?
My view is that the challenges that stand before us in Lebanon require the intercession of thousands of angels accompanied by carefully considered intelligence and hard work on every aspect of a change project. This is vital if we are to navigate a safe and successful journey through the treacherous waters that lie ahead. We have little choice. The tides of change are so strong that we must prepare our survival strategy and do it quickly.
We must also be prepared to have the agility of adaptation to the unexpected at any moment during our journey. We do need to believe in the power to achieve the seemingly impossible and we need the energy of the incurable optimist to see us through to safe shores as we cross the turbulent waters of change. In Lebanon we need to be both fool and angel to meet the challenges we set for our businesses and ourselves.
Fay Niewiadomski is the Managing Director and Senior Consultant in Change Management at ICTN-International Consulting and Training Network, sarl