I have always pondered the term Change Management. I see management as sameness, consistency and predictability – what is known. Change implies the unknown.
Change can be seen as synonymous with life; when any living entity stops changing, it dies. Yet, when I ask leaders to describe typical reactions to change, the list usually includes:
- Complaints – whinging
- Withdrawal (including hiding information and/or resources)
- Irrational over-reactions – ‘paranoia’
- Territorial protection
The abysmal track record with organizational Change is now well documented1. From McKinsey research, only 30% of executives said their Change programme produced a more healthy organisation and only 38% think the organisation performed better after the Change programme. Yet, 57% of Change programmes are to reduce costs and improve efficiency. (You can’t dictate efficiency to people using command and control – they know best where waste is. Developing autonomy capitalizes on this.2)
Typical drivers of change have been one (or a combination) of these:
- Financial pressure – profit demands, new ownership, M&As, drives for efficiency
- External events – earthquakes, major weather events or fires
- Market shifts – GFC, commodity prices or loss of a major account
- Government/local government policy change – legislation and/or policy changes
- IT system implementation or new technology process changes
The latter is now an every day experience for most employees and even customers. Where are the advances in adoption of what’s new, to smooth the transition to the better, faster, easier, more efficient post-change state?
Change is Life
Given that continuous, iterative, life-sustaining change is how we (and organizations) stay alive, why do employees resist change? Apart from the abysmal track record – people have long memories – there must be more to it.
Let’s be clear – people love change for the better. Ask any lotto winner. Change itself is not the issue. Change for the worse is. Unexpected, doomed, threatening and nonsensical change that people assume will make things worse………….who in their right mind would welcome that?
Change that is imposed and seen as negative is typically experienced by the normal (never mind abnormal!) human brain as a threat to the very survival of the individual. The primal brain reacts to this perceived threat in a range of disruptive (and even potentially life-threatening) ways.3
Relevant for organizational change is the fact that the adaptive human brain learns survival in another type of organization – the nuclear family. The brain in formative years negotiates a daily series of power struggles. Freud called this the battle between superego and id. Eric Berne called these internalized constructs ‘parent’ and ‘child’, with each state accompanied by a set of typical statements (‘scripts’) and emotions. People typically repeat these scripts in situations of uncertainty and threat, This explains many of the bizarre and disruptive behaviors during times of ‘imposed’ change (perceived as parent imposing their authority on the powerless child).
I have seen four approaches to Organizational Change, listed here in the order of success (and in reverse order of prevalence):
- Change Process-driven
Most common is number 4: a project manager is appointed to manage the change. (Typically, they never leave their computer.)
A Leader-driven approach is having a Pied Piper who is charismatic enough to lead people in a direction no matter how much sense it makes to them. The issue with this is self-evident; one person cannot create organization success.
The Campaign-driven approach is powerful, drawing on neuromarketing techniques. A full-on marketing campaign sweeps folks along on an emotional wave of euphoria and you hope that once they come crashing down once the worst is over and the gains are being realized.
None of these, however, beat the Team-driven approach.
The Team-driven approach is simply business as usual for an organisation:
- that co-creates its future with everyone equally involved
- that keeps everyone firmly informed and grounded in market and financial realities
- where expectations of both customers and funders drive how people organize themselves – flexibly, resourcefully and responsibly – around priorities
- where each person (and each sub-team) sees its role as an essential link in the value chain – one team, where the chain is only as strong as its weakest link and all see their role as ensuring the whole service chain delivers value
Telling it like it is, involving people fully in how things work and expecting everyone to continuously make things work better means that Change is engineered into the foundations and corridors of the enterprise. Some call this ‘being agile’; others refer to it as ‘high performance’.
To lead change:
- Create a change-ready culture
- Communicate (even over-communicate) the team purpose, and how the Change fulfills that purpose
- Partner with people to make the change work – solicit everyone’s ideas….ask and listen
- Build strong relationships (before, during and after) the Change
- Stay visible, available and ‘plugged in’ to intervene where anything threatens progress
- Highlight gains made from both big and small changes
- Review the experience to create a more change-ready organisation (and back to 1.)
1 “Organizing for successful Change management: A McKinsey Global Survey”. June 2006.
2 David Marquette. Turn the Ship Around. (Developing critical thinking rather than compliance)
3 Dr Dacher Keltner. The Power Paradox – how we gain and lose influence. (From 48.30-52.30 mins)
About the Author:
Cherri Holland is a performance and change specialist who works with leaders transforming their organisations in response to market pressures, technology change or both. Long influenced by leaders running successful staff-driven businesses, she combines this partnership-approach to enterprise with the neuroscience of super-performance.
Having worked with clients at all levels across most sectors in nine countries, Cherri has validated these high-performance approaches in diverse cultures and types of enterprise.
Described as commercially-savvy, engaging and inspirational, her clients have consistently said their high expectations of change outcomes have been exceeded.
She uses organisation purpose as a vehicle for collaboration and human ingenuity to co-create programmes that outperform those traditionally imposed by ‘experts’.