Anyone who is familiar with John Kotters’ definition of leadership will know leaders make changes – whereas managers maintain stability. The struggle to do both is the daily balancing act of any senior executive.
But, the bigger challenge is the defining of change in the first place.
Many leaders are employed primarily to make change happen. Words like ‘improve’, ‘efficiencies’, ‘growth’ and ‘competitiveness’ litter the job descriptions of C-suite roles. Many are tested for their vision and those known to have this skill are often paid more on the REM circuit.
They’re expected to march in, ‘rally the troops’, point them towards the ‘brave new world’ and take them there. Moses, Caeser and Alexander the Great all rolled in to one.
Yet we all know that change fails when the employees:
Don’t embrace the vision
Don’t share the direction
Don’t ‘buy-in’ to our new plans.
We talk about change resistance, how to engage with the vision, generate buy-in and teach leaders to go out there and do it. And when we say, “go out there and do it,” what we really mean is, “do it to them,” with “them” meaning ‘the staff’.
Persuade, convince, cajole and ultimately ‘help people off the bus’ if they don’t want to be on it. Everyone knows what’s coming, so if you want security you’d better look like this is the bus for you. After all, we’ve also learned that if you hang around long enough, the bus will change.
C-suites come and go – and the next one will want a blue bus anyway (as opposed to the green one we are jumping on now).
We employ for a vision, reward for a vision and then push that vision out there…and that’s the skill of leadership.
But is it really?
Imagine a leader who had no vision for the business. Would you employ them? No.
So, what about a leader who had no personal vision for the business, but believed the people in it did. Would you employ them? “Maybe,” I’m sure you would say. But something is still missing.
What about the leader who believed the organisation could be smarter, faster, more creative and agile – and that the people within in knew how to unlock such potential if he worked with them?
A leader whose tools were not visioning, but engagement?
A leader who stayed open to approaches that were not his – and whose only vision was one which everyone shared in?
A leader who listened not in judgement, but in interest?
The hardest change of all is where we let go of the certainty of our own vision and instead, engage with others to create a vision that is more sophisticated…because it is owned by many.
I recently moved house, from the north island of Nz to the South. As you can imagine shifting everything you have, your cars and your dogs in this way is a little bit different from moving to another street in a big town. Everything changes, friends are a bit more distant, routines have to be redesigned and a whole way of life recreated. In the middle of all this I tweeted that I was in the midst of a big change in life but I couldn’t be a change agent if I couldn’t cope with it. A peer and colleague answered my tweet to say that they thought change agents did what they did because they didn’t like change and preferred to control it.
She got me thinking, whether said in humour or not. What if she was right and out there all the change agents in operation are change resistant coupled with a high need for control? So I thought I would ask as well as write this week and you can tell me about you and if I get enough responses you will get a blog back about the data.
But back to her view on change agents. My perspective has always been that to be able to lead change that impacts on others you should have been through change yourself, both poorly and well managed. That experience can be used to understand how people feel in the situation where their future is not in their control and what a good or bad boss can do to about that. An example I always give is that you can’t truly know how to make someone redundant unless you’ve been through it yourself. You can do some training, understand in theory, but your perspective is always intellectual. I think that’s why peers often give such poor advice during change (just as the happily single give to a divorcing friend) it’s all based on a ‘you will get over it’ mindset. Which is true but not that helpful on the day. So a change agent that hadn’t coped in adversity or dealt with being powerless?
And what about the aspect of needing to control? Now I do know that some people have a vision of the world and move heaven on earth to change it to that. But the successful tend to be those whose vision of the world has some leeway, An ability for others to engage in it, enrichen it and join in the co-creation. Successful change has always seemed like an epidemic that you can’t help catching rather than a cattle drive (albeit a well meaning one that will hopefully take us to a land of milk and honey that they will thank them for in the end).
As a change agent I’m open to another perspective though (or is that not a pre-requisite?) so tell me Changed or Changer? What does it take to be a change agent when it comes to control.
This Poll is just for fun so please don’t write to me and tell me I’m asking the wrong question the wrong way (If you do I will mark you down as a need to control anyway)
When I tweet on Twitter and comment on Linkedin I tend to share what I’m seeing in the world of change and leadership. Sometimes it’s happening in a client space or a training space and sometimes a coaching space.
I recently commented on linkedin “don’t ignore those who helped you get where you are“. It was a simple thought as far as I was concerned, nothing really earth shattering. In no time at all it had 138 likes and 16 comments. This might not be an incredible number if you are Justin Bieber but for someone whose space is the targeted worlds of change and leadership and whose audience doesn’t tend to shout ‘Yay’ at everything you say, it was quite a surprise.
What was even nicer and more interesting was that people began to use it to thank those that had helped them on their journey, and those people obviously felt humbled by the thanks. It was nice to see and it was also nice to have initiated something positive for a few people, even though Justin Bieber saying it would have had half the planet thanking each other and not just a few.
And yes there were people who jumped on to advertise things like central heating (which I guess warms your heart in other ways) and spurious websites, but that too is just part of the world we live in. I’m sure they were thankful too.
It all came from a conversation with a group of managers whose direct reports were about to go through a development programme with myself and a colleague. I’ve noticed that if the manager is committed to the outcomes of these programmes then the direct reports seem to get more out of them and not just because committed managers don’t demand you come to a meeting on the day of your course. To help the managers engage we asked them to think about people in their past who had helped them get where they were today, and from their to think about what they could do to have a similarly big impact on their direct reports during the programme. It stirred up some great thoughts for some, so I passed the idea on via LinkedIn and Twitter.
The response struck a chord with even more people so it seems to me that when most of us think of people that have helped us we feel good and lift our game, as no doubt they do when we thank them for their help. The hashtag I gave it was #bethankful and hasn’t quite become a meme but I wonder what would happen in your workplace if it did?
Maybe you could pass it on and see what you get back?
In this, the third blog in this series I explore the trend in change methodologies that become in themselves the latest trend.
Process is king
Every few years another trend happens in Organisational design and a ‘new’ approach comes along. Whatever they are called they are a process or a methodology that you are supposed to follow to make change happen within the organisation. Generally speaking every manager has to be trained in it or it apparently won’t work, and the really well marketed ones have degrees of capability built in to show that you are more expert in the process than anyone else. They have
their own terminology and jargon and you can put people from different organisations together and they can be using the same terminology to talk about a totally different business. But the fact that so many come and go should tell you something.
So let’s say first off that I’m not against a bit of process or methodology. I think it’s a good thing to give managers tools and skills to help them look at the way their area does things.
Let’s face it most organisations are full of processes. Processes that should be designed to help
people deliver the Organisational outcomes. No process is for ever so what worked a few years ago should always be reviewed to see if it is still working effectively. That’s a managers role, ergo you tool them up to be able to do that. It’s a simple as that.
However from many consultancies point of view you put a few tools together and you have a methodology for that review process. You can sell a methodology. You can’t sell ‘well I get a few people in a room, get them talking about what is holding them up and get them to design a different approach’. For one thing who would need HR (only kidding), but secondly getting people in a room and working the problems together is what managers are meant to do isn’t it? Well actually no in the case of many, so HR often buys a methodology that gets managers doing what good managers have always done.
Trouble is that these methodologies are often treated as if they are a panacea; only the process will solve our problems. That only this methodology can get out the stains that others leave behind. And then some of them can get quite meticulous and exacting, probably because the designer was, but often to make sure that you have to buy the training, the software, the conference, the online forum and the helpdesk. And at that point the process becomes king.
When the point of the process becomes all about following the process then it’s likely that the process is preventing the most sophisticated tool on the planet from doing what it’s good at. The human brain, thinking. And that’s what many methodologies do, even if that’s not what the original designer wanted.
This can also be why so many become passing fads. Because the end user is ‘put through’ training and just doesn’t want to use it to such a high degree, or feels that it takes a long time to get very little, or just doesn’t like being regimented in the way they think, etc.
Organisations need processes and most always will. But an over-reliance on process minimizes people and what they are there for just as an under-processed business can be chaotically inefficient. And when it comes to changing the process then any methodology that is in itself more important than the dialogue between capable people, seems to miss the long term point of change, which is to get people working together to use their brains to improve what they know best; the job they do every day.
In this, the second in a three part blog on current trends or perspectives in change, I explore some of the views expressed in social media about change and organisational culture
Peace, love and harmony, man
If you take a look at some of the online discussion channels that are around and look at the responses to questions that look a little like ‘What are the key attributes of a change leader’ or ‘how do you create change in an organisation?’ and inevitably ‘Trust your employees’ will raise its head in some shape or form.
I wasn’t a child of the flower power generation, nor am I old enough to have been part of that movement, but the ‘all you need is love’ period of the sixties didn’t pass me by, as many of my school teachers were of that era. It doesn’t seem to have passed change by either as we still have many who believe that the workplace would be so much better if we ‘just trust everyone to do their job’ , that structure is just shackles in disguise and that managers and management are unnecessary at best and a form of modern day slave traders at worst
I’ve worked on culture change and structure change alike and believe that they go hand in hand but can’t be confused for each other. I’ve met my share of those who should never have been given responsibility for other people whether it be that they haven’t got a people bone in their body or that they care so much they can’t take hard decisions or hard actions. And I’ve met wonderful talented, self directed, self motivated people who need little management as much as I’ve met those who were a danger to themselves and others (one operator that as they explained their most recent injury actually started to do it again to show me). And all that has shown me is that trust is a flexible term that needs repeatedly earned as much as its given, that everyone is different to the point that some need structure to function whilst others need freedom to create, and that the skills of manager and leader rest in their ability to read and meet the different needs of their team members and adjust accordingly.
Yes the workplace needs trust. Yes a harmonious atmosphere helps production and Yes if people could appreciate each other’s differences and talents (the appropriate form of ‘Love’ in the workplace I believe) then human interactions would be easier. But a global ‘let the people go’ won’t work however good the vision and well articulated the direction of the business is. People just see things so differently that you can’t assume that they will all align themselves to the vision, direction and strategy perfectly every day.
Organisations need structures, processes, policies, leadership and management that help people to use their skills and talents effectively. Most change is about getting the balancing act of that mix right for the organisation to deliver its vision and strategy. Too much or too little can get in the way of people performing. So trust is an enabler of a culture but on its own it delivers as much as a bunch of 1960s hippies at a music festival.
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