The Change Factor - The business catalyst
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Archive for December, 2011

Setting up the change bubble

Change can be started from the middle and not just as a company wide initiative. i.e leaders can create culture change within their own department or division without any impetus from outside such as HR or their CEO/GM. Indeed many senior managers learn their way through change by taking smaller initiatives of their own when running departments, before they move on to running divisions, or indeed whole companies. Your successful implementation of change in the middle ranks can be a part of your rise to the top. After all when you get to the top, change is normally what you are expected to do.

But change from the middle brings a lot with it.

I often think of culture change in one small part of a bigger entity as building a bubble around your department or division. Localised change means that you are creating something different from the rest of the organisation, something that the organisation may, or may not like. Culture has a life of its own, and like any life form it tries to protect itself. So if your change requires any form of change in your local culture (and very few systems changes stand alone without a change of working habits, attitudes etc and that means a change in culture), be ready for the larger culture to impact on your small change. As a ‘life-form’ the dominant culture will try to wash over anything that is different from it so that ‘the way things are’ is protected. In change from the middle you are up against the status-quo.

To ensure that your change survives and grows you build a bubble around your department, the people within it and the change that you are promoting. That bubble needs to be strong enough to protect your change from outside influences that may not like what they see. Your change needs to captivate and hold the attention of those within your department because they are currently ‘infected’ with the old culture; after all your organisation has told them for long enough that the other way of doing things was the right way. Therefore your people need you to create a safe space for them to engage with that change, as they may be going against the organisational flow by getting on board your change.

So starting change from the middle requires something a little different from a change that is organisational wide. There are challenges that you will face as a manager driving change in your patch. Like any change you need to do your homework and prepare before you launch, so that you have everything in place to ensure success. Part of that is the logistics and mechanics of what you need to do for your specific change e.g. the hardware and software, the plan, the process, the comms plan, the engagement process, the budgeting and control processes.  All of these are the most obvious starting points for a change leader.But they aren’t everything.

Before you start you also need to understand what the change takes from you personally. Many changes fail, not because they were a bad idea, but because the leader did not understand what the change would take from them. They didn’t set up a safe place for change so the bubble burst well before the change had a chance to grow.

On December 21st I will be talking with Heather Stagl of Enclaria, on blogtalk radio, about creating a safe place for change from the perspective of what it takes from a leader. Listen here for that conversation.

As part of that conversation, my next few blogs will also continue this topic with an exploration of the four things a leader needs to consider when building their change bubble.