I’ve read many reasons for change failing. From lack of planning, to resistance, to no resources, there are many many factors in the failure of change. But what about politics?
Time and again I hear reasons for change failing that are fundamentally attributable to leadership not leading. But I don’t mean in the sense of weak leadership or invisibility of leadership, which are obvious change limiters, but leaders covertly or overtly making decisions that go counter to an organisations declared strategy for change.
Streamlining of the Organisational structure in ways that should create clarity of responsibility get usurped because one leader would rather their team keep on doing something that the structure has designed out of their remit. The loss of power and control not dealt with at the time of change and even more worryingly not dealt with after by senior leaders not dealing with the non compliance.
Change being launched and gradually slowed and abandoned because there were reasons it wasn’t working, but the reasons are largely because effort was not being put in place because a manager did not agree with the change. Commitment hadn’t been clarified and incentivized at the start, instead an ‘are we all in?’ was taken as enough (we are all committed to the organisation aren’t we?)
How about straight out dislike for another manager that has been asked to deliver a key strategy. Individuals in other management positions don’t play their part. Competition for promotion being predicated on success makes tripping up another manager a handy tactic doesn’t it.
I don’t agree with it (but I’m not saying that out loud), I don’t like it (it doesn’t work for me personally), I don’t believe in that way of operating (I want to do things my way), are all sub-plots in the politics of change prevention and normally the players are capable of running a covert operation.
The fact that it exists is not surprising, but the fact that it is allowed to exist is even more surprising. CEOs, GM’s, MD’s know it’s going on and often who is doing it, but often the culprits aren’t called out for it. Instead those who are responsible for delivery are told they need to find a way of dealing with the problem, working to overcome the resistor, improving the relationship to reach agreement etc, which further condones the politics.
More than this the staff who are being asked to go along with the change can often see that it’s the politics of those above that is thwarting it. So we often hear about change weariness and many factors in that, but the ‘why bother because see how they behaved with the last change’ isn’t often mentioned.
Have we all become so used to politics in organisations that we no longer notice it? Is it the elephant in the room of change? I would be interested in the views of other practitioners.
Leaders are meant to lead change. Organisational leaders are meant to lead collectively with the same goal in mind.
Change can stumble for many reasons but it should never stumble because of the politics of leaders. Isn’t it time the proponents were outed and managed!
It often amazes me how things that happen at work can feel very much the same as home life, especially when they are going wrong. I sat with a colleague the other day and over a coffee she told me about some problems she had gone through with someone whom she worked with. I had a ‘this is just like..’ feeling.
My colleague told me that over a period of time she and this staffer had disagreed about the way things needed to be done for their client. As an Ad agency keeping client happy with the output is important, but sticking to within the client budget even more so.
She felt that her colleague was going off in a direction that the client business couldn’t afford and wasn’t really in the original remit. She didn’t think the ideas were bad per se just not what had been agreed. As she was the contact for the client it was up to her to deliver and she was getting pressure as a result.
Each conversation they had became tougher and she noticed that they were changing in a drastic way. Their conversations became more formal and her colleagues tone was more clipped. It began to sound as if everything her colleague said had been rehearsed and even as if someone else had told her what she should be saying.
Eventually she suggested that they sit down and make it clear to each other how they needed to work and what they would each do on the contract. Her colleague stormed out. She phoned her and tried to reconcile but got nowhere. Two days later her colleague left to start a new role and week later approached the client to come with her.
Does some of that sound familiar? Ever been through a relationship breakup? Now does it sound familiar?
When people break up with work they tend to act the same way that they do in a break-up at home.
To justify the eventual leaving, staff will begin to make work appear ‘bad’. Everything that happens can get blown up out of all proportion, everything their manager does or colleagues do will be wrong. If they are being told by friends that they ‘need to leave’ then it can start to sound like they are being coached or someone else is talking. Situations appear to be more formal, and often result in very obvious annoyance or upset. When they finally leave people will say ‘she hated it here no wonder she went’.
When you witness a colleague behaving badly towards work on an increasing basis, what you may be seeing is the result of the decision already made. They know that they want to leave, but they haven’t finalised the decision, so the behaviour is fuel to justify the ending.
If you are a manager of someone who is acting this way its a time for the C’s. Firstly its a time to be cautious. Handle it wrongly and you become the problem. And if you become the problem then you can also be the reason cited for their leaving and you don’t want that. So don’t burst out with ‘whats wrong with you!’
So Its the time for personal calm and its the time for checking (anything else going on in their life? Someone will know, anything specific happened? Someone will know that too).
You cant afford to leave it going on if it is affecting your workplace and your other staff and some people can drag the scenario out for a long time. So when you’ve watched a while to be sure something is really wrong, checked what you need to check, then its the time for a chat. In your most supportive way, with no accusations and no allegations, you check in with them to see whats going on and whether something is wrong and whether there is something that you can help with as their manager.
If they make it clear that they don’t like it at work and hate the job/people/work/company (take your pick) then a good manager will help that person to ‘get off the bus’. But don’t suggest that they leave (you go back to being the problem again), suggest that you can ‘find someone who may be able to help them get clear on what they do want to do and see where that takes them, but in the meantime if they have a problem could they just air it with you?’.
So cautious, calm, check and a chat.
Wouldn’t every break up be easy if thats the way it went?
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