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March (No. 494)


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Helping your business prepare for change in the workplace

David Change , Senior consultant - PKF Organisation Development (SA)

If there is one thing we can be sure of in the wine world, it is change. Unfortunately the complexity of the business world, of which the wine industry is just one part, makes it difficult to forecast change and facilitate a smooth transition from the old to the new. The cliched “reactive” and “proactive” approaches to change have become daily terms of engagement in the war of market competitiveness, and while they have probably detracted from the substance of sound management theory, like all cliches they are founded on an element of truth.

All too often businesses tend to “react” to minor and major crises in the workplace, focusing their attention on immediate issues and paying only lip service to their strategic plan. Make no mistake – change in the workplace is complex - but does this mean we should resign ourselves and fly by the seat of our pants?

No. Don’t give up. Despite assertions to the contrary, planning and deliberate strategy is still the most-successful way to respond to the ever-present turbulence in the environment.

A world of change

Major world events such as the recent tsunami disaster, the Bali bombings, September 11 and the War on Terror have fundamentally changed the way we look at the world and our place in it. Similar examples could be given to illustrate the economic, political, technological and environmental change that surrounds us every day, changes that we must all adapt to in order to make sense of our world. Despite the magnitude of these events we do tend to adapt remarkably well and continue our daily lives.

While the change we experience in the workplace and business environment may not appear to be as dramatic as the events cited above, its salience in our day-to-day experience makes it just as real. Some brief calculations of the number of years, days, and hours of our lives we spend in the workplace will remind us of this significance.

But unlike acts of God or terror attacks, the change we make in the workplace is largely controlled by us and we can significantly influence the way it is managed. Furthermore, with the right planning we can get ahead of most changes.

There has been much written on the topic of change management and many authors have attempted to extract the core principles that may apply to implementing change in all situations. Others have argued for more of a contingency approach to dealing with organisational change, suggesting that the appropriate style and approach may vary depending on the context. But to state the obvious, there will be an element that will involve a shift in the work itself (ie. policy, procedure, equipment) and an element that will involve changes in people (ie. behaviour, knowledge, skills, attitudes).

There is a common belief that people are generally afraid of change and will naturally resist attempts to alter their work environment. While this may be true for a very small group of individuals, a more-accurate statement would be that humans, like other organisms, tend to become comfortable with a state of equilibrium (or stability). For those who studied biology or chemistry at school, this will be a familiar concept.

The challenge for managers in a wine industry workplace is in engaging people and altering this state of equilibrium (often called “unfreezing” the workplace), successfully transitioning staff and implementing the required change, and then creating a new equilibrium (or “refreezing”) where new work behaviours are reinforced and maintained.

NOTE: The complete article can be found in the March issue of The Australian & New Zealand Grapegrower & Winemaker.

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