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Confused? That's change for you

BRITISH ORGANISATIONS are failing to manage change effectively, resulting in lost skills, long hours, low morale and job insecurity, according to research published last week by the Institute of Management and the University of Manchester Institute of Science & Technology.

The study, the second annual report from a planned five-year project, comes as the Roffey Park Management Institute of West Sussex is launching a new programme to help managers grapple with the complexity associated with culture change programmes, long-range strategic plans and business engineering exercises. It finds that, although working hours seem to be starting to dip, most managers still work too long. Seventy-eight per cent say they work more than 40 hours a week and just over a third claim they do more than 50 hours a week, with a similar proportion working at weekends.

The effects of such habits are taking a toll on managers' personal and professional lives. As well as the inevitable encroachment on time with their families, 59 per cent say they've damaged their health and more than half that working long hours makes them less productive.

Attitudes towards long hours vary according to seniority. While 45 per cent of senior managers and directors regard such hours as entirely acceptable, a third of junior and middle managers only work them because they believe it is expected by their employers, and 22 per cent say they find them unacceptable but have no choice.

The hours are undoubtedly a reflection of the increasingly pressurised environment in which managers find themselves. Nearly half say they suffer from information overload and more than two-thirds feel under constant time pressure. Forty-four per cent of managers say they lack the resources they need to do their job - with pressure to get work done on time the main reason given for working long hours.

And, of course, a key factor behind all this time pressure is the restructuring and change that are now seen as facts of working life. Sixty per cent of managers say their organisations have restructured in the past year.

And while 51 per cent of these managers say it has increased profitability, about the same proportion claim it has led to job insecurity, lower morale and the erosion of motivation and loyalty. Fifty-two per cent of the more than 1,000 managers questioned, compared with 45 per cent last time, fear their organisations have lost essential skills and experience through such initiatives.

It is in an effort to deal with such problems that the Roffey Park course has been established. It is being presented by Paul Roberts, the organisation's programme director, and Professor Ralph Stacey, visiting fellow at Roffey Park and director of Hertfordshire University's complexity and management centre.

According to Mr Roberts, by understanding more about how complex adaptive systems work, managers can do much to assist the change process. "Instead of hierarchically imposing change, managers need to unleash the potential for change. They can do this by creating adaptive organisations with flexible structures, skills, processes and information flows."

Professor Stacey points out that any group of humans - families, communities or companies - can be thought of as complex adaptive systems consisting of interacting individuals with different ideas and beliefs. He adds that the potential for any action to have all kinds of ramifications means that it is vital for managers to have some grip on the so-called complexity theory.

"Change will occur, but not in the way that you designed or planned for. What emerges is totally unpredictable," he says.

The Roffey Park course, "Meeting the Challenge of Change", consists of three sets of two-day modules and is limited to 12 participants, each focusing on a real project, at a time. For further information contact Mr Roberts on 01293 851644.