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Change doesn’t Change

The key to a successful change initiative continues to be reaching people’s hearts.

The world has changed a lot since 1979 – business has most definitely gone global, at every scale. Business has gone virtual, a word that in 1979 meant something completely different. But people’s anxieties, fears and dreams remain pretty much the same.

The essence of human nature has proved to stay fairly constant over the centuries – otherwise, why do we still watch Shakespeare and Greek drama? Our core seems to be challenged when we undergo change, the ground shifts under our feet and we have to change the way things are… because they are just not good enough. Even if the change is for the best, our habits might secretly, subconsciously and subtly, resist.

I have just finished reading a brilliant article, originally written in 1979 and re-printed in 2008 (Harvard Business Review Vol. 86 Issue. 7/8) by John P. Kotter and Leonard A. Schlesinger. I will take the liberty to quote the first paragraph here as, to be honest, I can’t really put it any better.

In 1973, The Conference Board asked 13 eminent authorities to speculate what significant management issues and problems would develop over the next 20 years. One of the strongest themes that runs through their subsequent reports is a concern for the ability of organizations to respond to environmental change. As one person wrote: “Reorganization is usually feared, because it means disturbance of the status quo, a threat to people’s vested interests in their jobs, and an upset to established ways of doing things.”

Changing involves rewiring our thought-patterns, changing our habits, modifying our routines. Some people enjoy the routine that work can bring. Change can bring about the loss of friendships or strong professional relationships; it can change our physical environment; it can undermine what we have already learned as we have to being a conscious learning journey.

But change can also help us grow, consolidate weak ties, unlock new potential and seal new relationships. The difficulty is in balancing the negative aspects of change, which appear usually in the short-term, with the benefits that the long-term process can bring.

 
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Posted by on August 3, 2011 in change

 

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Change is Here to Stay

I read two articles this morning which highlighted the importance of AGILITY in business today and the potential dangers of introducing “change initiatives”.

If we are asking our people to think about change only during change initiatives, does it mean they shouldn’t stay ahead of the game the rest of the time? Does this mean that we do not want them to constantly challenge and review current practice, to avoid our performance from going down?

Another danger in introducing “change initiatives”, as pointed out by Chris Musselwhite and Tammie Plouffe in the HBR blog article Communicating Change as Business as Usual, is that the initiative is seen as extra work, not as part of our responsibility to contribute to the organisation’s success.

My other concern with “change initiatives” is that the term conjures up a long-term process, something which will take months to plan, therefore seeing “the change” as taking place some time in the future. While planning is necessary, it seems to remove the possibility of changing today, or of operating in an agile way, which allows to respond to change as we go along. Technology is forcing businesses to stay ahead of the game and is threatening those companies who rely on long-term contracts. (For a good example on this, see Brett Clay’s article “Borders Books Liquidation Shows Change Management Doesn’t Work”.)

Maybe we should get rid of the word Change and substitute it for Evolution, after all, either you evolve or you perish. Or is it a case of “potatoe/potato”?

 
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Posted by on July 20, 2011 in change

 

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Communication During Change

Don’t rush to inspire: inform first.

When thinking about what and how to communicate a change initiative to your team, consider that people will react differently to the news; they will assimilate them differently and at different stages. It might therefore be unwise to insist at the beginning of the process that change will bring with it wonderful things, when people might be confused, or even scared.

Karl G Schoemer, in his book ‘Change is Your Competitive Advantage’, defines three types of communication, with relation to leading others through change:

  1. Informative communication
  2. Supportive communication and
  3. Inspirational communication.

Schoemer suggests selecting each different type of communication to suit each individual and the stage in the assimilation of change at which they are at. Or, if you need to create one piece of communication to address many people (a speech or a memo for example) then he suggests using each mode in the order presented above.

Let’s have a look at teach type of communication.

Informative Communication

When hearing about a change, it is difficult to decide what it means to us until we have some details (unless of course, you’re incredibly happy or incredibly fed up with your current situation).

In the early stages of implementing change, it is worth addressing who, what, where, when and how, the plans and schedules currently in place, why the change is necessary and how it will benefit individuals, teams, the organisation and the end users or customers.

Depending on the complexity of the change, you will be able to give more or less details during your initial communications or conversations. If the change is a complex one, then give a timeframe of when more details will be provided.

There is little point in going straight into the “inspirational talk” when your team members don’t really understand the nature of the change. Unlike you, they might have only heard rumours about plans or might not even be aware that change is on its way. Try to bring them up to speed before letting them know how much better off they will be in the long-term. Even before you try to inspire them, you will need to show them some support.

Supportive communication

Showing appreciation to those undergoing change is vital. It takes a lot of effort to change and there are few things as unmotivating as not having your efforts recognised.

Appreciating everyone’s efforts, celebrating good results and acknowledging that change is not always easy, can all go a long way to help morale.

Inspirational Communication

Once your team members know how the change will affect them and are beginning to adapt to the new way of working, they will be more open to hearing you talk about how great the change is going to be for everyone.

This can, of course, be difficult if the change is a restructure that has involved redundancies. In this case, it is worth emphasising the need to find new ways of working as soon as possible in order to arrive at the point where you all feel like you are working at your best. This does not mean of course asking everyone to forget how things were (remember William Bridges’ point “treat the past with respect”), but identify if there are ways in which the team can build on previous successes to find a new optimum way of operating.

I cannot emphasise enough the need for communication. Nothing is as clear cut as the suggestion above, but hopefully this will help you to keep everyone on track. The important thing to remember is that the way in which you communicate will need to change with time and will depend on who you are communicating with – not just due to the different behaviours and personalities in your team, but also due to where they are in the process to change.

For more on the need to accept change in business, I recommend Change is Your Competitive Advantage: Strategies for Adapting, Transforming, and Succeeding in the New Business Reality.

 
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Posted by on July 19, 2011 in change, leadership

 

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