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Managing Change at Work - 20 July 2010

Liberia is a country in Africa with a history of ravaging women’s rights. Widespread and relentless violence has included female mutilation, wife burning, dowry-related brutality, female infanticide, trafficking, forced early marriage, and executions.

Today, Liberia is a different country. The status of women is still poor, but they’ve advanced considerably. There are more women educated than ever before, more of them are starting their own businesses, and there’s been a reduction in female-related crime. The ultimate sign of their progress occurred a few years ago: a woman became their president. In fact, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was the first female leader in all of Africa.

To create such massive change, the authorities in Liberia had to target three specific areas in their attempts to engage a hostile population. They had to focus on people’s heads, hands, and hearts. Only a change strategy that encompasses all three points will ever succeed. The same principle applies at work.

Heads: In Liberia, they recognised that change would only ever occur when women’s issues were discussed with the general population. So, dedicated ambassadors took the message of women’s empowerment straight to the community. By raising awareness of what’s right and what’s not, women slowly developed the courage to report incidences of crime.

Another word for this phase could be consult. In the workplace, before any change is implemented, discuss it with your team. Get their thoughts on how they feel the change will affect them and seek their ideas on how it can be improved. Use this consultation period to gather suggestions that could help you implement the change more effectively.

Hands: It took a grassroots women's movement to propel President Sirleaf’s election. Since then, the Ministry of Gender and Development has distributed farming equipment to rural women and provided training and credit for female entrepreneurs. Rather than issue aid, they assist them to create their own sustainable futures.

An alternative word for this phase is involvement. In the workplace, people hate being changed, but they’re okay with the flow of change. The difference between the two comes down to the degree that you involve your employees in the change’s implementation. Ignoring their input makes them feel as if the change is being imposed upon them.

Hearts: Prior to Ellen's presidency, the Liberian government was enticed and influenced by countries it respected (and needed). For example, the United States and the European Union made development assistance dependent on Liberian officials upholding the rule of law in relation to human rights.

A different word for this element is advocacy. At work, employee loyalty to organisations is dead. Employees trust the opinions of their colleagues more than the views of their boss. If you can get a couple of the most popular people on board as supporters of the change, they’ll be able to influence the rest of the team.

Liberia’s motto is “the love of liberty brought us here”, which is an apt motto for managing change at work, too.

 

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