Opinionista Stephen Rothgiesser 19 November 2019

Why traditional change management won’t work for Eskom

Until 15 years ago, a major change occurred seldom in the life-cycle of an organisation. If it did, it focused on managing crisis (think Lego) or the partial separation from a government entity (think Telkom). Thanks to technology, change now happens as an endemic and systematic fact of life for most organisations.

We’re bearing witness to how a crisis of unsustainability is forcing a massive and exceedingly complex overhaul of Eskom. The stakes are high, because, as we are all aware, this ailing beast can literally take down the entire South African economy.

Unfortunately, research shows that between 60 to 70% of organisational change plans fail; as Eskom looks to a transformative solution, we need to take a hard look at the ways that we go about changing organisations.

The roots of change management can be traced back to the 1960s and the work of influential sociologist Everett Rogers, who built a model of change that focused on the adoption of new technology. How organisations dealt with change evolved from concepts and management talk into the formal discipline of change management at play today.

Many models and processes of change management have emerged, very often utilising the consultants who bring in proprietary change management tools. Change projects have been focused on new technology and the psychology of the people it has an impact on, so IT and HR are the units that have rolled up their sleeves to manage the change. But time and again, the results fall far short of the mark.

This narrow focus of change management is certainly not going to help a large entity like Eskom where everything from transforming leadership, redressing technical skills shortfalls, cost-cutting and the unbundling into three different entities are all aspects of the suggested solution. What Eskom needs is an end-to-end change implementation where all the complexity is held in a coherent “scaffolding” that can help it deliver an integrated change solution.

The rise of change implementation

For many management consultants, it has become increasingly clear that a more sophisticated and systemic approach is necessary to meet the increasing complexity of our world, workplaces and organisations. Change implementation as a new approach places additional focus on identifying complexity, risk and opportunity inherent in an organisational system, and addressing this in a systemic and practical manner.

This ensures that people, culture and leadership; organisational structure; policy, systems and processes; and all ICT and brand assets are first understood and then solved in terms of any proposed change programme.

In practical terms, change implementation in the context of the transformation of Eskom requires correctly identifying all key stakeholders who must be engaged with to negotiate a workable settlement. A final organisational structure that makes commercial and operational sense must be decided upon while ensuring that the number of employees aligns with Eskom’s commercial requirements and budgets.

Consumers must be engaged to ensure that payment obligations are met and illegal connections are reported and safely shut down. The appropriate level of automation using technology to ensure the efficient flow of the organisation would need to be investigated and implemented.

Finally, the impact of these various strategic, commercial and organisational activities might affect employee head-count, and this would need to be balanced with a concerted effort to reskill or redeploy current employees into other roles or opportunities.

Most importantly, change implementation involves leadership that fully understands the scale and complexity of the required change. Leaders have to be selected who are truly open to change, and fully engaged and committed to providing and sustaining vision, credibility and influence during any change or transformation process. Their role is critical to articulate the way forward and they must be available to provide direction and guidance to ensure success. Change implementation works to proactively resolve misalignment in the top team, which is a common roadblock to success.

The consultant involved in change implementation has to be willing and able to break the traditional mould. There is no role for a “pleaser” relying on a big brain who observes the conventional limits. The role of a value-adding consultant is that of a disruptor who helps the organisation out of its comfort zone and manages the risk inherent in any change process in an appropriate manner.

Their scope is not just to identify the technical problem, but to put their finger on the systemic and organisational challenges, and then bring in the right set of skills to deliver effective solutions and successful, sustainable transformation. Change implementation is not easy. It is an activity of great risk, but ultimately, when done well, is the only chance of success for South Africa’s major power provider. BM

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