Continuing our analysis of communicating change we look at involving others in the company by empowering them to act on the vision.First, you must get rid of obstacles to change by changing systems or structures that seriously undermine the vision.There's no sense in establishing information meetings or bulletins if you are not serious about changing the structures and procedures within the organisation that prevent change from happening. Fortunately, regulation means that change in many procedures (record keeping for example) will inevitably have to change.Unfortunately, some of the most serious obstacles to change can be attitudes - not just employees, but also senior personnel. Although the big stick approach is not recommended, the bottom line is this: these changes must happen and those who are not willing to embrace new methods and processes must inevitably face extinction. Having made such a harsh statement, as I stressed in a previous article, good communication can alleviate much of the fear associated with new ways of doing things, so concentrate on this and the road won't be quite so rocky. If staff understand the rationale behind doing things, they won't be quite so unwilling to accept change. And don't forget to remind them that it could be worse - the industry could have been facing mandatory examinations, with all the associated stress. Anyone who harbours any doubts about the stress associated with mandatory exams should have a conversation with their financial services colleagues, who will be happy to put you in the picture.Planning for and creating short-term gainsSeeing the positive results of change will give a boost to employees and please senior mangement (and the regulator). So, to capitalise on short-term gains there must be: A plan for visible performance improvement Action to create those improvements Recognition and reward for employees involved in the improvements.
This is an area where you can put your appraisal scheme to good use. If you aren't fully using an appraisal system already, get expert help now; it will become an intrinsic part of your competence framework and really does have business benefits. Sadly, the majority of firms that I see are still not fully utilising appraisals as a means to performance improvement and this is generally because there has been little or no investment in training those who carry out appraisals to do so effectively and training those who receive appraisals (which should be everyone in the firm, from the top down) to participate effectively. Talk to managers in other firms who are using their appraisal system effectively - not necessarily from the insurance sector either. And remember, you cannot possibly carry out an effective performance review unless you have drawn up accurate job specifications. This is echoed in the T&C framework that you should be adopting by now. A performance review simply provides an opportunity to improve competency and develop skilled, knowledgeable staff, which in turn will have a positive impact on your firm's risk profile. This will also please the regulator.Consolidating improvements and producing still more changeOnce you have started to communicate the rationale behind change and once employees see that you mean business, your credibility will increase. It is vital that you follow through and implement changes, or you will experience the most common criticism that employees have (“Nothing ever really happens…”) and promote cynicism that will become an obstacle to change. Treat this period too as an opportunity to embed procedures and processes that you may have wanted to establish in the past.You now have the perfect excuse for implementing changes for the benefit of the business that you may not have been able to ‘sell to the troops' previously.Don't be afraid to hire people who can help to drive the change, whether as permanent staff (preferred) or as consultants. If you are using consultancy, make sure that there is a skill transfer to your firm, otherwise you will be caught in the cycle of paying for external help forever. For real change to take place, you must have the will to change from within, so ensure that you have someone appointed internally to take responsibility And don't forget that from a regulatory point of view, the responsibility for implementation of procedures rests squarely with the board of directors or the principals.Institutionalising new approaches
You need to demonstrate that the changes that are happening not only have real business benefits, but also have benefits for employees. Not least among the benefits is the fact that, if the business is booming, jobs are secure. It is a fact, too, that employees who are developed through training and mentoring really do produce more effectively. It should not be viewed as an airy-fairy notion and it doesn't just apply to big corporations with huge HR functions. Employees who have planned learning and development tend to be more faithful to their employers. They feel included and are more likely to go the extra mile for you when you need it.There must be a means to ensure leadership development and succession.This is another point which the regulator is keen to promote and which is based on sound business sense. I have worked with so many successful firms who have not planned for the future and this leaves them in a vulnerable position. The worst case scenario is when three out of four directors are about to retire and there is no one ‘bringing up the rear'. Even if it is your intention to sell out at retirement you will get a much better deal for the firm if you are leaving strong management behind.No one knows your firm as well as your employees do, so make them stakeholders in its success by communicating with them, developing them and giving them the opportunity to grow within it.You might be surprised at how people really do rise to the challenges and opportunities that change offers.You've had three weeks to think about how you are communicating regulatory issues to your staff. Set a date now for making it happen: don't let the opportunity side away. Kate Foreman is director of training at RW Group