Dr Larry Marshall has been in the chief executive seat since 2015 and now faces the challenging task of revamping the organisation as the CSIRO focuses on its latest goal of mitigating climate change, and garnering the support of his workforce.
Marshall told the ABC’s Radio National that his organisation risked “stagnating” due to lower than average staff turnover and said redundancies and redeployments would make way for a new wave of talent.
“If you don’t have a healthy turnover of people then you run the risk of becoming stagnant and that’s our issue,” Marshall told ABC radio.
And many workers are being encouraged to pick up new digital skills or move on, as part of the CSIRO’s new strategy to inject fresh innovation into its workforce.
Marshall says the organisational restructure would affect up to 350 staff and hit hardest in climate science areas.
“Under our new strategy we recognise that we need some new skills in the organisation that we don’t have already,” he says.
In an interview with Fairfax Media, Marshall said a "renewal" of staff was necessary for the CSIRO to achieve its key goals of becoming more innovative, more impactful and aligning more closely with industry.
"Staff numbers will stay the same or go up slightly but in order to respond to the new strategy we realise that we need some people with different skills to the ones we already have," Marshall said.
In a worst-case scenario Mr Marshall said 350 staff would be affected. "That's the sort of number of people who will have to adapt, not move on," he says. "It will be up to them and their abilities if they stay or go."
Some push back is expected among CSIRO’s 5200 staff. "The reality is some people are really resistant to change and some people embrace it," Marshall says.
"It's always sad when people lose a job. That's always sad when people leave, but personally I think what's sadder is when someone stays but what they're doing isn't impactful anymore. It's very easy to fall into purgatory when it's just a grind."
Barry Lehrer, founder and director of DiffuzeHR says push back is a common reality when organisations are faced with directional change.
Garnering the support of the workforce when championing organisational change is critical for leaders, Lehrer told HC Online.
“If you don’t have employee buy-in, then you don’t have change,” he says.
Some new leaders feel pressure to achieve organisational change before fully understanding the depth of company culture, Lehrer says.
“If you come in and say I am going to change the culture, then employees will say ‘why change it’”, Lehrer says.
“You will get push back as people feel it’s going to affect them, and natural instinct says ‘this will affect me in a negative way’”.
Leaders seeking to influence change in an organisation should take their time to first understand the depth of company culture by having frank and open discussions with their HR departments.
Good HR managers should act as the conduit between management and staff to help the new management understand the existing culture and true machinations of how the company works.
“On the reverse side HR needs to be working with management to help staff understand where the company is going and get their feelings and feedback,” Lehrer says.
However if a company is heading in one direction and employees don’t wish to follow, then the employee is ultimately the one to miss out, he says.
The new head of Australia’s peak science and research body is championing broad cultural change within the CSIRO and encouraging scientists to up-skill or move on.