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Changed Conditions Ahead: SGCH’s Tips for Effective Change Management

SGCH is a community housing organisation that for almost 30 years has aimed to improve people’s lives through quality, affordable housing. In the 12 months following their first employee engagement survey with Voice Project, SGCH was able to achieve strong improvements in its change management scores while driving positive changes to the organisation’s structure and the way teams work together.

How did SGCH achieve such dramatic improvement?
Suellen McCaffrey, General Manager – People and Communications, highlights four keys to SGCH’s success.

1. Alignment

Suellen emphasises that change cannot simply be pushed forward through leadership alone. Rather, there need to be systems, processes and structures all aligned and working together . For instance, while undergoing a significant restructure – the success of which won them the Australasian Housing Services Award – SGCH sought staff feedback on how this new structure could be aligned with internal customer focus values. They then created new teams with specialist roles aimed at supporting tenancy managers to service challenging or vulnerable tenants. As another example, SGCH was able to substantially improve cross-unit cooperation by creating team-leader networks, pairing these networks with training programs, and fostering cross-team projects using their existing project management framework.

2. Find the Right Change Management Framework for You

Secondly, SGCH identified the importance of having a change management framework that aligned with their culture and approach to leadership development. SGCH utilises a change model based on the four quadrants originally developed by Ken Wilber, which focusses on the internal/external and collective/individual aspects of change. It therefore covers a range of different viewpoints from which to consider change and its implications. According to Suellen, “It’s a neat way of capturing all the elements to change and where we need to focus, and it also talks about aligning all those things”. This process has resulted in a newfound awareness and appreciation of the extent to which people think and respond differently to things, and has helped to shape the decisions and approaches of managers in SGCH.

Ken Wilber Four Quadrants

3. Help Staff to Understand and Speak Up About Change

SGCH has also made a strong effort to ensure that staff are familiarised with the change process and are given opportunities to discuss their feelings about it . During their orientation, new staff participate in workshops which introduce them to the four quadrant change management framework, explain why it is used, and outline why SGCH focusses on the personal, cognitive and psychological aspects of change. Suellen also runs workshops when the organisation is in the process of going through change, helping staff to understand change and giving them space to discuss their own individual reactions to it. “That’s all part of the plan so that people can help themselves through change. It kind of normalises change, that’s the whole idea of it. So they’ll speak up if there is an issue or they can just see that they’re not the only ones who might feel like this, and they can also support each other through the change”.

4. Consult, Communicate, and Repeat!

Consultation has also been integral to SGCH’s improved change management scores. Significant changes like restructures would have a plan that goes from senior levels, to teams, to individuals or vice versa in a consultation phase that continues right through to the end. This means that staff are involved in the journey and are given a chance to provide feedback, and ultimately results in a higher level of support from staff . Interestingly, Suellen indicated that one of the biggest changes SGCH made to employee consultation following their initial engagement survey was the way they talked about things, in other words, “communicating process, not just outcomes”. This meant not only holding workshops or feedback sessions, but clearly communicating the purpose of these sessions, what was going to happen with the information provided, when the organisation would get back to staff about their concerns, and when staff could expect to be updated. Suellen emphasises that even telling staff you have no further information to give is better than not communicating at all. This helps to create a sense of involvement and ownership for staff while making them feel valued by the organisation.

Of course, as with many other organisations who have been through significant change, SGCH experiences its own challenges in regards to resistance or anxiety from employees. Again, communicating with employees and understanding their perspectives are keys to SGCH’s approach. Suellen believes that you can’t pull people behind you during a change, rather, you have to develop an awareness of where they are at and what they are protective of, and walk with them to a new place. “I think people don’t resist change. They resist loss. So if you can understand what it is someone perceives they’re actually losing and help them to see how they can get that met – that’s the key thing. If managers are having those conversations with people, they’ve got a much better chance of helping them”. Discussions like these have helped SGCH achieve what Suellen considers to be one of the biggest and most important parts of the change process – “maintaining what is great about SGCH, not losing that as you try to grow and build”.

For more tips on change management, download Voice Project's Change Management Voice Bite below.

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