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5 mins w/ Dr Shahnaz Naughton

Interviewed on 15 December 2016

Share the wealth...

Tell us a little bit about your change management, project management or business transformation experience.

I have been a part of developing the field of Organisational Change Management (OCM) since mid-1980's. Prior to that, in my earlier academic career, I taught strategic management as well as strategic human resource management and organisational behaviour. One issue that continuously sufficed in my teaching, and in discussions on the topic, was the difficulty that organisations faced while implementing strategic decisions and the resulting failure of the strategic initiatives. This prompted my interest to study this phenomenon further, which eventually led to my PhD research in OCM. At the start of my research (1994), the field of OCM was still at an embryonic stage with practically no doctoral research specific to OCM. That meant that I had to develop the methodological and conceptual framework to underpin my research. I was fortunate enough to conduct my research at BHP at the time the organisation was rapidly transforming to remain competitive. Several radical transformational changes were introduced during my study and this included the appointment of a new CEO from US. The longitudinal study I conducted were from 1994 to 2003 until after the merger with Billiton. I specifically investigated: Strategic decision making (contextual factors) and how those strategic initiatives were implemented; What factors determined the effectiveness of this change process; What was the role and involvement of middle management in the change process; and What factors influenced middle management commitment or lack of commitment to change. There were several major findings; however, the key findings related to the explanation of why so many transformational changes fail. This, subsequently, led to the development of a change implementation model, which shows the intertwined and complex nature of implementing change. Using my knowledge and experience gained at BHPBilliton, I have successfully led major transformational change for UNDP, several government and private sector organisations, which included a number of major international projects. 

How did you come to perform in a change management, project management, or business transformation  (pick whichever is relevant for you) related role? What attracted you?

Having gained the in-depth knowledge and experience in OCM, it's hard not to get excited and not be involved in both developing the field and sharing the knowledge. In that sense, my role has always been twofold; I have maintained my academic role while also consulting for governments and industry. In academia, I have continuously developed the course in OCM and teach OCM, Strategic Management, and Organisational Behaviour (OB) at post graduate and doctoral levels. The good aspect of teaching in all three areas is that they complement each other and make OCM (which otherwise is a complex field), easier to understand from a contextual and processual view. Using examples from my own change management experience and real life case studies, I take my students through the journey of understanding Strategy and OB, before taking them through the chaos and complexity that surrounds OCM. I get enormously excited when I teach and share my knowledge. In my consulting role, I have largely worked as a strategic change lead in a range of major transformational projects. I have also developed change governance framework (responsibility & accountability) and change implementation framework (process of change & monitoring). A large part of my consulting role involved coaching and developing change champions as implementors of change - a role that I relish the most

Why is good change or project management (pick whichever is relevant for you) so critical to the way businesses perform today?

In the current environment, businesses together with governments and not-for-profit sectors are caught and entangled in intense global competition, the emergence of the "new" economy, complex relations with other firms and governments, increased strategic choices together with increasing speed, volume and complexity of change. These factors mean that organizations are forced to adapt quickly to survive. In order to remain competitive in such an unpredictable environment, organizations have to ensure they have the resources and capabilities to deal with the intricacies of change. In this regard, change should be seen as a friend and an opportunity and not as an obstacle or threat. There is no one way to view change so "good change" is difficult to define. However, if you look at what's on the shelf, then you will find that prescriptions on "best" ways to change organizations are in abundance. Yet, what most organizations experience when they attempt to change is not as straightforward as these prescriptions suggest. Change, whether internally generated, or externally confronted, is not a neat and clearly marked journey from a present state to a desired outcome so for businesses to remain competitive, they must build change in their very structure, system and culture. The only thing constant in an organisation is change itself so, in my opinion, organisations need to develop a "change excellence centre" or similar, as part of their organisation structure to build change competency to provide continuity - and that's what I call a "good change".

What makes a great change management, project management or business transformation (pick whichever is relevant for you) practitioner?

For me, a great change practitioner is someone who has in-depth understanding of complexity and chaos that surrounds change implementation. Someone who acknowledges that one-size fits all does not work and rejects the very notion of using off-the-shelf standardized change solutions. I take the view that, passion, knowledge and understanding is at the core of a great change practitioner. I think great change practitioners are those that endeavor to understand change on two levels. Firstly, they understand change from a strategic perspective and are able to ask the right questions including: what strategic initiatives the organization is implementing and what are the expected outcome? who are the key players? what politics surrounds the change initiative? and determines the level of resistance to change. This type of change practitioner, in my opinion, is able to determine the complexity of change ie the magnitude of change, the scope and depth of change and the timeframe within which change needs to be implemented. 
Secondly, they understand the people side of change. When we talk about change management, we really are talking about changing the behaviour and attitude of people and putting them into a new context to bring about change. This is the most challenging task for anyone that is involved in implementing change. Behaviours and attitudes are rather implicit or tacit and are difficult to predict and pin-down. A great change practitioner who is genuinely passionate about their role, listens to people, communicates openly and honestly, has the talent to build relationships and gains trust is difficult to surpass.

What is your idea of a great change management, project management or business transformation (pick whichever is relevant for you) challenge?

For someone like me who has been involved in this field for many years, I see "qualification gap" to be the great change management challenge. The role or position of a change management practitioner is difficult to define let alone describe the duties and responsibilities. So, an obvious challenge is to define who a change management practitioner/professional is? What are their qualifications? Simply writing communications strategy/plan and or change strategy/plan certainly does not make one a change management expert. As I mentioned earlier, change is complex, messy, unpredictable and paradoxical that cannot be managed in a neat linear and sequential steps nor it can be project managed- you simply cannot project manage people and behavior. This warrants change professionals to acquire deep knowledge and understanding of OCM in order to drive change successfully in organisations. Unless change professionals have a recognized formal qualification in OCM, change failure rate will continue