Successful Change Management – The Malaysian Way

Several years ago, the multinational company I was working for went through a merger which resulted in significant organizational changes. The new company direction favoured a more web based approach to training, so half of the total number of trainers were at risk of unemployment. As the last employee to have been hired, I was naturally worried about the outcome. In the end, even though I had to leave the company, I left in good faith with no hard feelings. Till this day, I still view it as one of the best companies I have ever worked with.

Within the workplace, change is often inevitable. A manager might resign, a merger or acquisition could occur, cost cutting initiatives may be introduced – the list is never ending. Such changes often mean that roles and hierarchy may change, old processes could become obsolete and worst of all, people could be at risk of losing their jobs. As such, priority is often given to change management to ensure the least amount of disruption, downtime and expenses are incurred during the transition. For a relationship-driven culture like Malaysia, how do we view change and what are effective methods to manage the changes that occur within the workplace?

Change is uncomfortable. As a high uncertainty avoidance culture, Malaysians have a tendency to stick to familiar habits rather than venture into new or unknown territories. A change at work causes disruption to our routine and can thus result in anxiety, low morale and poor productivity especially if it threatens our job security. As such, when contemplating major changes at the workplace, ample consideration must be given to the impact to the staff – how will they be involved? How will they react to the change? What steps can be taken to reassure staff and ease them gently into the changes that are about to take place? How can they be motivated to confidently drive and support the change?

Clear and timely communication is essential. Lack of information often causes uncertainty, which can then lead to gossip and rumours circulating around the office. When this gets out of hand, trust among employees and the company is affected and can result in unfavourable outcomes. Therefore, changes should be communicated clearly through all channels (messages from the CEO, meetings by the managers, or company email broadcasts) and dispensed at timely intervals to ensure everyone knows what to expect, when to expect it, and where to go for more clarification. Above all things, it is important that the company sends a clear message that will keep their employees trust in them – that despite the changes, the welfare and needs of the staff will be the utmost priority of the company.

Change starts with leadership. Individuals from the management and leadership positions play an important role in helping their subordinates successfully embrace change. The key is trust. Do the staff believe there is a convincing need for change?  Are their leaders demonstrating faith that the change will lead to a better future for the company? Has information from their superiors been honest and transparent, always keeping in mind the needs of their team? By ensuring the above issues are positively addressed, leaders can help staff to trust in the new direction that the company has embarked on and support it accordingly. In my initial example, my team leader went to great lengths to first try to retain all affected trainers, and then worked equally hard to ensure we were all properly compensated. We had zero doubts that we were going to be taken care of; in fact, she was the one who found me my next job.

The way change is managed and dealt with can vary greatly across different cultures. It is not uncommon for multinational organizations to bring in international staff to lead and drive major changes in its subsidiaries across the world. As such, understanding how each culture views and reacts to organizational changes is important and our various cross-cultural training programs can help equip you with just such knowledge in a Malaysian cultural context.

By: Boleh Blogger