This week I have had the pleasure to speak with two long term clients about change. Both clients are male and in their mid 50’s. Both have been with their employers for over 20 years. Both are in reasonably senior and responsible roles within their organisations. Finally, both are now confronted with significant structural and cultural change to the extent they have never faced before. They are choosing two remarkably different strategies to deal with the change and it will be interesting to watch the outcomes unfold.
My first client has worked for his company for 28 years and he is now the most senior employee in the company in Australia. He is extremely powerful and worked one on one with the past
managing director and significant shareholder until last year when the company was purchased by Chinese interests. It was then that his world changed significantly. He no longer reported to his long term friend and mentor. His new boss was a 31 year old Chinese national based in Shanghai. He had never worked in the sector and came out of management consulting. He was a wunderkind of sorts and had progressed his career at a rapid rate of knots. He set about changing the framework that my client worked within for years and challenged his expertise and experience.
My client had two choices; he either had to embrace the change and conform or refuse. He chose the former. Firstly, he set about getting to know his new manager well. He learnt about him, his family and most importantly, what he expected from him. He learnt some basic Mandarin so that he could communicate on a basic level and the compromise of language was no longer one way, He enrolled in a six sigma management course so that he could understand the new language of management and contribute to group meetings in a meaningful manner. Within 12 months, he had been promoted to a global role and he is absolutely loving his role. He is more challenged and rewarded than ever before and feels as though he will never leave the company. It has been a dramatic transformation. He also admitted that he had learnt more in the past year than he had in the previous ten years and even though he missed his close relationship with the former managing director, he would not change a thing.
My second client was in a less senior and skilled position but had been with his company for 26 years. Work was a necessary evil for him and he had been in the same role for over nine years. He had recently separated from his wife and was down in the dumps. His employer had been struggling for quite some time and new management were appointed to turn the business around. My client was less than happy with what they were doing.
Unlike client number one, client number two decided not to change his approach to work. He viewed the concept of continuous improvement as a joke and felt as though his historical knowledge of the business protected him. He continued to take his allocated sick days as though they were an extension of his holidays and did not take up the offer to re-train and upskill. He led a public revolt to the management changes and started to purely go through the motions. It should not have come as a shock to him when his new employers ran out of patience and moved to exit him from the organisation however it was. He was destroyed and had no idea what he had done to deserve retrenchment. It took a great deal of time for him to appreciate that his behaviour was a major factor in his employment fate.
Both of these clients had experienced significant challenges as a result of change in management. New management invariably drive a change agenda and this leads to new challenges and pressures. It presents employees with a decision to make; do you embrace the change and align your behaviours to the new culture or do you stick to your tried and tested methods and agitate against the change? It is an interesting question that most of us will be faced with in due course and our responses most likely will have a direct correlation to tenure.
Brad McMahon – Managing Director