If the aim is to transform the organisation to change not only how things are done but what is done then minimising resistance will be the key to success. This involves knowing what’s really going on, to be part of the action and to be able to step back from the action. A useful metaphor is moving between the dance floor and the balcony.
This metaphor is used to emphasise how important it is for leaders to get the balance right between being involved in the day to day running of the organisation as away of imposing values and setting the tone and being sufficiently strategic to transform the organisation.
Minimising resistance and knowing what’s really going on can be achieved by a number of ways senior managers walking the floor and talking to employees but this is rather artificial as the senior manager is shepherded around only seeing and hearing what their guide thinks appropriate. Employee engagement groups can be used to get feedback and suggestions and dig underneath some of the issues raised in a staff survey but unless you are present during the discussion what is recoded rarely offers much insight or a gauge of the strength of feeling.
I use to enjoy the reality TV show Back to the Shop Floor where the boss went undercover in their own organisation to find out what was really going on. It was good TV and often did provide the boss with some new insights. But it didn’t lead chief executives around the country donning wigs and false moustaches, just too gimmicky to be considered a serious management tool .
Within any organisation there is one group who are not operational managers but who know where the hot spots are. They have an overview of the whole organisation. What’s more they are able to differentiate between where problems are due to insensitive / clumsy management or staff resistance. They can identify were resistance is about legitimate concerns and where it’s simply a question protecting the status quo.
This group is the organisation’s HR team. They deal with employee grievances, they routinely advise managers on how to get employee to do what needs to be done and they are very adapt at getting managers out of holes they have dug. Their role brings them into regular contact with Trade Union representatives where informal conversations mean they know where resistance might come from.
In trying to find out what’s really going on in an organisation as part of minimise resistance to change it makes sense to ask HR to join you on the balcony.