Dynamic societies flourish and grow, those that don't change stagnate and die, according to history and common wisdom. It is the same for organisations that need to change in order to adapt to the world around them and to grow. How to deal with the changes is what challenges those charged with running organisations, institutions and commercial companies. Former governor of the Reserve Bank of Fiji, Sada Reddy shared his knowledge and experiences.
Fiji National University's National Training and Productivity Centre has been running a series of programs designed to help heads of organisations and institutions manage change.
Running these courses is a person who managed one of the country's major institutions, the Reserve Bank of Fiji. Former bank governor Sada Reddy has shared his knowledge with senior executives involved in changing and responding to change in some of Fiji's leading organisations.
His own experience in managing change includes leading the Housing Authority of Fiji as chairman at a time when it was in a difficult situation financially and making it profitable within two years.
He also played a key role as chairman of the Fiji School of Medicine Council by reforming and improving its governance and guiding the merger with the Fiji National University.
Mr Reddy said there were various reasons for change in organisations: it could be because of a change in the operating environment due to competition or other differences in market conditions, or even a change in government policy.
"Sometimes organisations have no control over such eventualities, and may have to take action in order to position themselves to take on the challenges and survive," Mr Reddy said.
Her said these actions could involve changing strategies or repositioning the company so that it could continue to deliver returns to shareholders.
This can mean redeploying staff or reducing staff to bring down operation costs, which Mr Reddy said was the most difficult, challenging and sensitive part of changing. But if the best decisions about excess staff were not considered, then the planned change was sure to fail, he said.
Mr Reddy said it was normal to find some staff who resisted change because they were unsure of how it would affect their jobs.
Age, according to him, is not really an issue, because some older staff see the need for change and were supportive. Redeployment and retraining was also an essential part of change, he advised.
"Coping with change is a very stressful thing for staff.
"The uncertainty surrounding change can be very demoralising and create lot of anxiety and strain.
"Such situations should be managed with sensitivity and compassion.
"Accurate and timely communication is critical to reduce anxiety and stress among staff and managers/ Supervisors have an important role to play in keeping staff morale high.
How to anticipate resistance to change and deal with it without jeopardising the change was difficult and complex, Mr Reddy said.
The role of executives in managing such resistance and the critical role line managers have in the situation were among the important skills Mr Reddy taught at the workshops.
Mr Reddy said sometimes organisations grew organically over time and then found that their company culture was out of step for a modern organisation that needed to focus on the customers.
In this situation there could be issues of excess staff, high operating expenses and other problems that make it necessary to revitalise the organisation, he said.
"This is especially true for the public sector which becomes too bureaucratic and lethargic.
"Why is it that in some organisations, it takes too long to get any decisions? Why is it that some organizations do not even bother replying to letters and emails. Are they too busy or do they have no accountability whether they reply or not."
A company knows it has to change when its survival is at stake and it is faced with folding. That's when the board and executives have to take stock and plan changes, he said.
But Mr Reddy warned that to bring about sustained improvements, an organisation may have to go through a well planned and ordered program of change. If they do not, then a company could spend much money and time and still not get the desired results.
The sort of change that involved transforming an organisation and the culture of the people within it was not just cosmetic or something to keep up the appearance of following the latest trends.
He said there was more than one way to manage change and no one model fitted all, so every change program must be designed to fit the unique situation of each organisation.
"But managing change is not that simple, change has to be driven from the top," Mr Reddy said. "But if executives and managers are too caught up with day to day work it is sometimes necessary to bring in outside consultants to help with the process."
"You can't just delegate to someone in the Human Resources Department to bring about the change. In fact the Human Resources Department should not be involved in managing the change as the skills required are very different. HR can assist in the change process but cannot drive a change program." he advised.
Managing change properly can be of help at a national level, Mr Reddy said.
"We are aware that there is much to be done at national level to bring about change in the work culture and governance.
"Properly targeted training programs at the ministerial, permanent secretary and department head levels can go a long way in inculcating a culture of accountability and good practice work ethics in the public sector," Mr Reddy said.
nAshwini Prasad is a staff member at the Fiji National University.