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OPINION - FINDING X + Y = THE RIGHT WAY

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Last month I described the two extremes through which successful change is thought to be achieved. Route X is drive...
Last month I described the two extremes through which successful change is thought to be achieved. Route X is driven from the top with an emphasis on speed, structures and systems. Route Y involves more consultation, commitment and cultural change.

However, neither X nor Y alone can achieve all of the likely objectives of a major council's change programme. If the aim is for a council to survive and prosper X and Y must combine.

I am not advocating a half-hearted, ill-thought through mixture of the two. That can be confusing and debilitating. Nor am I suggesting frequent switches from one to the other. There is no surer way to destroy trust. Only X followed by Y makes any sense.

Sound easy? I think not. Only very sophisticated managers can change from X to Y successfully. Most of us adopt a technique that suits our world view and stick with it. Consequently, brave decisions have to be made in order to adopt a sequence and a process that makes sense to you and those around you.

In most cases an effective, relatively rapid turnaround requires changes in organisational design, possibly a new management team, stronger systems and better processes. These changes need to happen quickly and with a degree of sure footedness. It is important to map them out, but not to try and answer all of the council's problems. In this way you can avoid top-down solutions that do not work and to which there is little commitment.

Of course managers and others need to focus on new goals and aspirations, but through debate and experiment and not through diktat. Through these means new arrangements and alterations in relationships acquire a sense of ownership and legitimacy. To produce a dynamic and adaptive council it is absolutely crucial that leaders at all levels are allowed space to innovate and make changes. It is likely - and healthy - that what emerges four or five years down the line is quite different from what was originally conceived.

Overblown training programmes, impossible total quality programmes and fancy sounding change programmes do not need to play a big part. After the first period, when X is more predominant, consultants should be kept to a minimum and used to support, not drive change.

In the end, your own people have to live with a mature change programme. The real job is in changing hearts and minds through new found passions and commitment.

Mel Usher

Former executive director, IDeA

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