There are few businesses out there that have not had to restructure at some time or another. Sometimes its because their market has gone downhill and they need to ‘retrench’ and at other times its because they need to grow and re-invest in technology. Either way jobs change and some jobs are removed or ‘dis-established’.
When these situations occur good companies have always worked things through with their employees and managed the change with integrity and with respect for those whose lives will change. Of course, not everyone did do it well and in my ‘leading through transition’ workshops I give a few examples that I have seen where distinct lack of empathy was shown.
Its because of those businesses who don't see the benefit of managing change well (and there are many), that laws are put in place. Whatever country you are reading this from I know that you will be subject to some laws that are meant to protect employees from poor management practice. In New Zealand we are no different and have laws that require us to consult with our employees on the proposed changes that an employer wants to put in place. I can see the good intentions behind that idea. A good employer should want to engage with their workforce to work the changes through and would want their ideas in how best to implement the change. In the past, before such legislation, I have tried that approach and honestly explained the problem and opened up discussions with the workforce. Of course it doesn’t really work and that is the first of the two problems with the legislative approach to managing restructuring.
The first thing that crosses anyones mind when you say that you have to bring about change in the business and that means some jobs have to go is that people are immediately concerned about ‘me’. What do you think would happen if you tried engaging in a decent wide ranging conversation to explore all ideas and options when you are thinking ‘this could mean I lose my job’ or ‘this could be a nice tidy sum and early retirement’. Natural human instincts of self preservation come in and you don’t have an honest conversation at all. The only person that you have such a conversation with is someone who is not affected. You would engage with the workforce and they soon say ‘You are management! Its your job to sort these things, why haven’t you done it?’
And you are back to the original approach of management coming up with a proposal and then talking it through with the workforce. And thats what most companies do under the legislation now. And then the second problem with the legislative approach comes in. The thing about the law is that it is open to interpretation. In fact there are people whose whole livelihood depends on their ability to interpret it differently and win. That means the law is never truly fixed and you are always looking at the last case and the last interpretation. This means that every time you start a consult you are spending a lot of your time trying to avoid being the next test case because going to court costs a lot of money with those guys who enjoy debating the law that you didn’t intend to break in the first place.
And how do you avoid being another case? By managing your proposal and process as tightly as possible. In fact in many cases the employer choses to follow a line of doing the legal minimum. Its often easier, as the less you say the less likely you are to get in to trouble. In addition you minimise risk by working the possible restructuring down to the tightest option. That means there is not a lot to discuss with the workforce as there are no real options. In fact I have sat with employers who have moved away from the smartest decision for the business and in the long run their people because that choice could result in a challenge in court.
Simplistically the less you say, the tighter the options you offer, the less likely you are to be really consulting and that defeats the higher intent of the reason for the legislation in the first place. Why has this happened? Well, the courts have got wary of people who use restructuring as a way of managing performance and that means many of the actions in court and the decisions being made are to make it tougher on employers who may be trying this. Of course it is another story to consider why it could be easier to manage a restructuring than to manage poor performance but lets leave that aside. The point is that some employers try this route and the more they do so, the tougher the courts will make their testing of cases to see if it was a true consult.
Can we change it? I’m not sure whether we can unless the legislation is overhauled, but it may help if employers remember that how they treat those that go tells those that stay whether you mean it the next time you say 'people are our biggest asset'.
In case you are over all those blogs and tweets telling you how to either have the perfect lockdown experience/survive lockdown then this isn’t an advisory blog. It’s a rambling ponder looking for debate and other thoughts.
I don’t know about you but I went in to our New Zealand wide lockdown with no illusions about writing a book. I’ve written a couple and for me they come from observation of my clients and what actually happens as opposed to theoretically happens. Being at home wasn’t going to give me much to observe I thought. But it has in a way I didn’t expect and that in itself has been interesting.
If you are on LinkedIn, you will be used to the never ending stream of ‘stories’ that are actually thinly veiled adverts for services. If you still use Twitter then the similar stream of ‘buy me’ has become normal. It’s creeping into Instagram too, where the amusing and interesting is punctuated with the ‘advisory’ or ‘ advertisory’ (overused ‘hide advert/its not relevant’ on my part). But with a lot of the world going in to some kind of lockdown/social distancing mode resulting in massive upheavals to the way we work, company closures, job losses and at the same time major production and supply chain issues you would think the throughput of these platforms would change.But it seems that isn’t the case for many of the change industry who continue to post about the same things they did last year.
I know that the rules for these platforms is that you to churn out ‘content’ so that you have a following, and continue to stay in their minds eye, to be snapped up the minute they need a consultant or a training. But isn’t our ‘content’ supposed to be ‘relevant’? And what more relevance for change agents can you have but change that was not predicted, planned or organised and is possibly going to be the greatest ‘disrupter’ of the way we work, than this pandemic?
So where are the blogs questioning the ‘relevance of Lewin's Freeze and Unfreeze/Kotters 8 steps/ 7S/ADKAR et al in the face of current reality’? Where are the tweets looking for research into whether ‘agile works in survival?’
Is it me expecting too much too soon? Or are we waiting for the academics to do the analysis after it’s all over and give us a new change paradigm? Are our change practitioners locked into their known models or really open to change themselves?
Or is there a touch of the Kubler-Ross ‘denial’ phase happening? Are we seeing a desperate hope that everything will go back to normal after this episode is over? Just got to keep our heads down and do what we already know because that keeps us safe and comfortable in chaos?
But it can’t be, as wouldn't that mean the change industry couldn’t do to itself what it advocates for others?
The world could be back to normal in a matter of months and my questions become moot. But change is inevitable in every other pathway of life so what’s the possibility that 2020 changes the way many of us work, deliver, consult, support so vastly that the models we used yesterday become irrelevant? And if that is a possibility then why aren’t we asking questions of our assumptions, challenging our status quo’s and debating the possibilities in the moment? Like Change Agents.
Thoughts and opinions appreciated. No criticism of anyone or anyone’s model intended. And if someone is having a discussion on ‘is this going to change change?’ and I wasn’t invited to the room then please feel free to quietly let me know.
Over the years I've rolled out my fair share of models. I've designed quite a few too, finding them easy ways to express an concept or idea.
In the last few years I've begun to wonder about our use of models and perhaps question an over-dependence on them.
Wherever you go to talk about the possibility of supporting an organisation in developing capability the conversation shifts quickly to ‘what models do you use?’. This is often less of an enquiry into your approach but more an expectation that the learning experience will be based around a model. Models are often seen as ways of creating consistency of approach around an organisation, and in many cases conformity of approach. The demand for an ‘certified’ model or an internationally used’ model is often not far from the thoughts of many organisers of training.
I've got used to that but now im noticing more of the end users expecting a model. In fact in many cases if you don't give a model they can be disappointed.
It's got me wondering why. Have we got users so used to model lead training they only expect a model and nothing else? Is it part of our fast food, get it quick world that means a model is a ‘ready-meal’ all set to consume? Or have we taught people to stop thinking?
It's the latter that concerns me most. Everything I've learnt about people tells me that most of us create our own models, practices, systems and symbols in our heads. In fact i have learnt that most of us never ‘conform’ to a model despite most organisations expecting them to do so. But models are often taught as a rule in a ‘do this, do that kind of way’ instead of a wrapping up of some ideas to help you or a guidance note to remind you when you are doing something that isn't habitual yet or prep if you want to turn into a habit. I wonder how many people reject the ‘rule’ and do their own thing anyway? In my observation it seems like a high percentage but ive never measured it (if anyone has then I would love to know).
Coming back to thinking I'm concerned that as we want shorter, faster, easily digestible training we ‘hand over the concept’ in the quickest time possible even though everything we’ve learnt tells us that capability isn’t built that way. Either that or we rely on feel good seminars with no follow through (Conferences and TedX talks are great but do they create lasting change?). Food for thought is just a snack if there is no way of deepening the thought and turning it in to action.
So my jury is out on our model dependency. I'm not sure how ready the organisational audience is for really thinking without being gifted the theory but I’m planning on trying it out.
Perhaps i will let you know how it goes.
This is a post about Change Communication, the second topic of the 2019 #changeblogchallenge, started by heather Stagl and Jennifer Frahm for the enlightenment and entertainment of the global change community. I wrote this article for Communicate Influence online magazine with the audience being communications professionals. As more and more change agents have to work with comms professionals I thought I would publish myself for the #changeblogchallenge for those that need to help the comms professionals see the difference that change requires from them. Feel free to share and pass on.
In more than two decades of leading and consulting on change, I’ve seen successful and unsuccessful change. And well-executed and poorly executed change.
I’ve seen a range of methodologies and beliefs about what makes change work applied in different organizations around the world.
Whatever the approach, process and style of leadership, everything I have seen reinforces my belief that communication is the root of change success. Good communications channels and media are vital.
Having a communication channel and using it well are two different things
There are organisations whose first ever newsletter was something I produced as part of a change initiative. They are normally met with ‘why do we need this?’ by local managers, such was their novelty. Some continued with the communications channels. The flash vehicle they have today was founded in those early documents I produced with hand-created diagrams and pictures to explain what was happening.
In recent years more organisations tell me that: “We have a communications vehicle and recognized channels”. But I’ve learnt to test and check these statements rather than tick them off in my change readiness survey. Having them and using them well are two different things.
So what is the place communications professionals who are in corporate communications roles when it comes to change? I firmly believe that they have one, but they need to be open to the idea that communications in change serves a different purpose. It follows a different flow from their regular communications.
Beware CEO ego pampering
I have been faced with a communications team pumping out good news stories and what I see as CEO ego pandering. This happens in a difficult consultation and staff are concerned for their jobs. Just imagine going to a funeral and screaming “It’s going to be wonderful” to see how that goes down.
The following are some thoughts to help communications professionals see the world of communications from the change agents’ perspective. It’s by no means everything you will ever need to know, but hopefully it gets you thinking.
Change communication is support, not publicity
Change communications should be a vehicle that supports managers in engaging with their people to help them on-board the journey. It should never do the manager’s job for them. Nor should it undermine what managers need to do to build trust and engagement.
I’ve seen managers go to a team meeting and toss the company magazine on the table and say: “It’s all in there, just read it”. With an action like this, the language and approach doesn’t match the language that the team would use. This is important because the people work for the manager, not your magazine. Therefore, on a daily basis they must look to their managers for guidance and support.
Change is a time where managers need to build trust and faith in their leadership. They must be ready for the months beyond the launch where they will be in the detail of the execution of the plan. Managers can’t do that by being absent or undermined during the buy-in phase.
Don’t rely solely on the CEO to drive messaging during change
Many company communication vehicles are driven by the CEO agenda, but the change journey is not a time where the CEO needs to drive all of the messaging. This is because the CEO is unlikely to be tuned to the phases and needs of the initiative at every stage. Yes, they are the key to launch, but after that the work gets done by the management levels.
Change fails when C suite, presidential, GM, Director levels i.e. the top tier take over and leave the managers and team leaders without a place in the trust and engagement game.
So communications professionals need to know the flow and rhythms of change. They need to work with the people that need them in support of what is trying to be delivered at the change coalface.
Change is much more than a launch
We all love a good trumpet fanfare. Communications professionals are one step away from PR and event professionals. There is something great about the launch of the new and exciting and interesting (I mean, who wants to write about business as usual when there is the communications equivalent of balloons and streamers or a journalistic scoop!).
CEOs love launches too. They are the place where their vision comes to the fore. It’s where their raison d’etre hits the road, and living breathing evidence of why the board appointed them.
There’s less joy in the “I know we said this last month but let’s go through it again” that change communications is often about. The launch is exactly that. It’s an initiation of a journey that goes through confusion, uncertainty, worry. But it takes a lift when it reaches understanding to hopefully meet the eventual better performance we are looking for.
Communicate the journey, not just the launch
Time and again I’ve seen a launch be treated as the only communications that’s needed. When I work with leaders I ask them: “How long have you been working on this?” and “How much time and energy have you put in to getting it to this point?”. Inevitably, the answer is months and in some cases years. And then I say: “But you expect your people to understand it within a week, write their comments the week after and say “Yes please” on week three?
At that point I suggest we promote all the staff. Obviously way more intelligent than their leadership if they can grasp a thorny complex topic in weeks instead of the months it’s taken the leaders!
So a launch is a start and that’s all. Have fun with it because it’s hard repetition and re-enforcing articles thereafter.
Where the hard yards are done
Once the change is out there you will have whatever legal compliance you need to undergo. Then you will have a long period of clarifying, repetition, answering questions, and finally embedding to communicate in support of what your managers need to be doing.
To do this takes an understanding of how people respond and react to change. There is an emotional processes that they need to engage in to go from an idea that the boss puts to them to playing their part well in the new world. This is where you need your change agent to guide you.
If your change agent is any good they will have an understanding of the phases of change. They will have put feedback loops in place to sense where the journey is at, and an understanding of what may be needed to meet the needs of your staff at every given stage.
Every division needs change communication vehicles
If they don’t and you don’t, then . . . well you know where I am or you will be playing this blind.
In my personal utopia of change I would have a change communications vehicle for every division in the organisation. These would beat to their own change rhythm which will be very different from the division next door even when the change is cross organisational or cultural.
People transition through the change journey in their own time based on the state of their heart and mind. Groups of people often go through things together with a collective, almost tribal, mindset so the flow matches the common state of mind.
Communications is part of capturing hearts so that the minds follow. Therefore, you need to feed the heart what the heart needs to engage, and most importantly let go of the past mindset to believe in the proposal and commit to the process.
Answer the why, and repeat the what and how
‘Why’ is the most important word in the early stages, and the ‘Why’ for your change will be tested, questioned and challenged until people can own it and make it their own.
When employees do question, it’s time to repeat the ‘What’ and ‘How’ that you will have told them in your launch but they’ve forgotten in their search for “What does this mean for me?”. (Yes, you will be part of answering that, too).
So the hard yards of change are repetitive. Focus on clarifying dialogue between managers and staff. This means that your communications vehicle is a re-enforcing tool used to fuel discussion, confirm what the manager is saying and give opportunities for reflection.
Don’t keep changing the storyline in the midst of change
One of the things I’ve noticed over the years is that intelligent people don’t like doing repetitive things. Intelligent leaders enjoy the progress of moving forward and the new things that excite them. Equally, communications people don’t really like writing the same stuff all the time.
When it comes to change you need to follow what I call the 3Rs of Regular, Repeat and Re-enforce.
Change communications needs to be regular, not sporadic. It’s a flow of: “Here is where we have got to this week”, not “Wow, here’s something exciting to tell you”. Change communication needs to repeat the key messages that your launch was built on.
The slogans, the straplines, and quotes explain the Why, What and How of change, and in doing so they reinforces the messages that managers are giving so that people get on board and believe it.
Hold managers accountable for change messaging
When managers are asked to explain something or write an update for the change communications vehicle I’ve seen them change the language. They draw the flow differently, produce a new model, or just say something in a completely different way from the last time.
This behavior underscores the fact that managers need communications professionals to point out these changes and to hold them accountable to the 3Rs. And they will find that boring. It’s more fun to look at things a different way and some creative or unconventional thinkers will say “But the idea has evolved”. At that point, someone needs to point out that they had nine months for it to evolve, now is the time to hold to it so others engage.
Advertisers understand this problem as soon as I mention it because their world is full of building a solid brand in people’s mind. So why is this important? Think how it goes for the employee who is the receiver of all this.
Employees need trust and truth
It’s bad enough that employees have no choices because management is driving this (and no choice is alien to being human). Staff are worried whether they can do it, cope with it, or fit the new model. They don’t yet fully understand what it means for them. Then someone comes along and changes it. “What’s this?” employees ask. “It’s different from last week . . . did they lie to me last week?” they wonder. “Can I trust these guys if they aren’t being honest? . . . “Well, let’s face it all managers aren’t that truthful, so maybe I will wait and see”.
And there goes the trust in the leadership, all for the want of a short period of consistent messaging. If you don’t believe me take this down to the shop-floor, coal face, the lowest levels and ask them if it’s been their experience in their working career. They may say it a different way, but the essence is still the same.
Feeding the saplings during change
When we are through the early stages and managers have everyone beginning to see what the change really looks like and understand their place in it, then you will move to the embedding and nurturing of the fragile blossom that has been planted.
This is the time that most change initiatives stop communications because the structure is in place. As well, the process has been started, and the new job descriptions rolled out etc. For many, that means the change is done but in stopping communication you bring about eventual failure of what the organization is attempting to create.
By failure I mean not getting the maximum out of the proposition. It’s only the ‘Get ready, set, go’ of the race you’ve done at this point – there’s still work to be done to run to the finish line.
Success stories spread positive results of change
Fortunately, this is almost natural ground for communications professionals, if not for managers. This is where the success stories are needed to spread the positive virus of change to the areas where it’s lagging or doubt and confusion are spreading.
“Look over there, that’s a great place to be” is what you are looking for. “If they can do it we can” is the reaction you are seeking.
Managers aren’t always good at seeing these. They are locked in the grind towards the ultimate KPI and that is still some time away. So a good communications professional will go looking for minor wins on the way to the big win, knowing that these stories build energy and motivation. For at this stage, stories they are and at last the communications professional can do what they are best at; write compelling stories.
Information for the change journey
Change isn’t a one-hit wonder launch. The journey from confusion to commitment needs to be fed with information. Information that is the root and cause of your communications vehicle. It’s information to suit the needs of the change journey. So there is a flow and gradual change in style to how you deliver that information. From premise and philosophy to facts that clarify and confirm, to stories that engage and embed.
Most importantly, you become a key part of a team with your change agents and managers. Hold them to the message whilst supporting their role and helping them to do the bits that may not be their strength.
With any luck, the next time your CEO tells you the organisation is about to go through change, you’ll be ready to guide them in what’s needed – from the communications vehicle to support change.
The whole world is now aware of the atrocity that happened in Christchurch on Friday 15th March 2019. Like many Kiwis I felt shock and then anger that this man had chosen to do this in my country.
We live in a world where news travels fast and unfortunately where misunderstanding travels quicker. As people seize this event to support their message, garner their votes or call others to action that suits them, all I can do is use my voice to say that this event and the man that committed it is not representative of New Zealand and its people.
Do not recast us in your minds. Do not look upon us fearfully. Do not put aside your plans to visit our beautiful country.
The peaceful people of this country all reject this event and the racism behind it. We will play our part in the change that the world needs by supporting our government in making the changes that we need to keep us all safe.
Hopefully we can show others the way.
But right now, we want the world to know that this is not us. #ThisIsNotUs
How do you change the culture when the existing culture is one of optionality? This question has been exercising my mind again and I thought I would share the thinking with you.
First of all, what is a culture of optionality? You might recognise the symptoms; initiatives are brought in by the organisation, people do the training, and then choose to not use the new system, follow the new approach, adhere to the new rules. Another symptom is that the organisation decides to buy all its services from one supplier, but people chose to ignore that because they prefer another supplier. Go on the training programme to ‘up- skill’ but don’t do the pre or post work? New software? Common platform? no thanks I will use my own!
To be a culture of optionality it cant just happen once though. It needs to happen every time the organisation roles something out. In addition, when you ask people they will say ‘Yes that is what happens around here’. To become cultural, it needs to be something that everyone knows about and the majority do, even if its a negative culture.
So how do you change a culture of optionality? If the problem is that everything is optional, then trying to roll out a new initiative to change the culture, becomes optional in itself!
I have asked for thoughts from people and even gone out to the twitter-verse. One thing that interested me is that a common response was ‘Trust and empowerment is the answer’. Think about it, how much more trust and empowerment can you have if people already feel empowered to do what they want anyway?But it did give me a reminder of prevalent thinking in the westernised world, which is also a clue why cultures of optionality exist everywhere and are growing in number.
Maybe we need to understand why cultures of optionality exist to understand what needs to be done to change the culture.
For everything to be optional means there are no consequences to not doing something or reward for doing something.
So the symptoms I mentioned are at the effect end of the cause and effect equation. If management does not apply a consequence to not doing anything e.g. still getting a good appraisal rating despite not following the system/process/training or there being no objective in the appraisal system that relates to using the system/process/training or still getting a good bonus despite etc etc then management is basically saying ‘that new thing is optional’. On the other side of the coin, if there is no reward the same thing happens e.g. keeping your bonus based on sales volume when you have declared that you want to focus on margins means that people will sell volume at low margin and the same applies to bringing in company values and using new system/processes etc. If you don’t connect reward to the new initiative then management is saying ‘this new thing is optional’.
To start the change from a culture of optionality to another culture requires the step of establishing expectations, setting boundaries and aligning job descriptions, appraisal systems and reward systems to match the culture you are looking for. And if needs be your performance management systems need to manage those who still refuse to be part of the culture.
Culture means ‘the way we do things around here’ and for something to be Cultural it means ‘the way we all do things around here’.
Don’t confuse a culture of trust and empowerment (which means we trust and empower you to operate within the boundaries and follow the systems just as much as it means we trust and empower you to use your brain to make good decisions) with a culture of optionality.
Ask yourself these questions if you are CEO and have a change programme under-way. They might help you get unstuck before you realise that you are stuck.
A. How is the change progressing?
B. How engaged are your people in the change?
C. If asked how many people could explain the culture change initiatives?
D. Talking about communicating, how often do you update everyone on the progress of change?
E. How are you measuring the change?
F. Who is responsible for your culture change?
G.How seriously are you taking this culture change
For some time, I’ve been buried deep in initiatives for four big clients. All are different projects and outcomes with one consistency between them being that they involve culture change. Whatever the culture change is focused on, I know that if the leadership doesn’t engage well, we have a risk of reduced impact at other levels of the organisation. I’m not saying no impact as I am a big proponent of culture change being a virus that can be encouraged despite lack of leadership, but in most cases, if the leaders don’t buy in, then the staff will be reluctant to engage.
Not all of these projects have a major training element, but all have some ‘new tool or approach’ for people to get their head round. Personally, I still find that humans engage in culture change with and through other humans rather than e-mechanisms as you can’t catch enthusiasm or talk through concerns with a computer (yet), so inevitably all our projects have workshop sessions of some type.
In planning these, I have sought to engage leadership so they take some degree of ownership of how we conduct these, and how leaders engage in the process. As a result, we have routinely come up against different views to the same question regarding whether leaders should be in the same ‘introductory’ sessions as their teams. I’ve noticed a number of clear positions taken which I think are a reflection on the individual leader that may have clear impact on the change initiative.
The ‘My team can say anything in front of me’ position
In this perspective, the leader is often opting to live in a place of the culture we are aiming for rather than the culture we may have today. The risk here is that people are not given the right to go on the change journey by asking questions of the facilitator and coming to their own conclusions.
The other version of this perspective is that some believe that to be the case in the here and now, as in thinking that their staff can be 100% full and frank with them. The risk here is twofold i.e. what if the leader is deluding themselves as they can’t see where staff are not being 100% frank with them and secondly, the change is a ‘new thing’ and often new things reset the environment a little while people check in to see if they can engage in the way they would expect to, so the manager runs the risk that the reset goes wrong.
Of course they may be right and that’s great, but you have to be really well informed to know.
The ‘I want to be there to steer the discussion’ position
As I facilitator of change, I’ve learned that this is not normally a judgement about me and my team and our ability to facilitate to the objective we have set, or to handle all of the questions and concerns that are raised. I mean, you do know that’s why you brought us in?
Normally this is an indication of the leaders comfort with the whole programme. It often means they haven’t heard what they need to get clarity on what it means for them. It can sometimes mean they feel the process is negating their leadership, which can sometimes happen in large scale corporate roll outs.
Now and again it’s about their comfort as a leader, their willingness to let go of the reins of control and once in a blue moon, they are concerned about what their team might say about them and their behaviour. The risks here are that the leader is present for the wrong reasons and they block the opportunity that staff have to engage and understand the way they need to buy in. The secondary risk is that in the workplace, the leaders need to control might diminish the possibilities of the change once they leave the session.
The ‘leaders are different and need special attention’ position
This can be seen as only one step removed from ‘I’m so senior I don’t need to attend these things’, but watch out as there are layers to this one. Some senior people do think they need special treatment just because of their position, which in the modern world is a cultural anachronism that you’ve just got to deal with. But often when this comes up, it’s the leader asking for a safe space to explore the topic so they don’t look foolish at worst or ill informed at best when in front of their people. When the workshops have a degree of ‘try it and see’ to the new tool or approach, I have real sympathy for their worry, because they are not going to feel comfortable trying something they are unsure of in front of staff. I would just rather they were honest about it than covering it up as that way my team are best placed to support them in the session (yes that too is what we are there for).
The ‘give staff a safe space to engage’ position
Many leaders recognise there are times that staff need to have the right to query and challenge the initiative to understand it, and that having the boss there gets in the way as they don’t want to say it in front of them. You don’t need to be a bad boss for this to be the case, as I’ve had people keeping quiet because they don’t want to let their manager down. But remember, it’s change, and in change people need to check the shifting grounds of what is safe and what isn’t.
In situations where there is a ‘try it’ element to the workshop, not all staff want to find themselves sitting opposite a manager as they have a go at something for the first time any more than some leaders don’t want to look bad in front of staff. In exploring this approach amongst leaders, someone often challenges it with the argument of ‘surely openness is where we want to get to, so why not start as we mean to go on’ which leads us back to the first example, and whether the change is a journey to go on or something you have decided ‘everyone needs to leap into, or get off the bus’.
Overall, I don’t really want to argue the merits and demerits of each position but raise the key points that I feel often get ignored in the discussion:
Culture change is a special kind of change, so as a leader make sure you are challenging your own preferences so you don’t make your first step a misstep.
One of the speaking engagements that I am often invited to deliver I’ve called 'Culture change: holy grail or poison chalice?'
In it, I discuss the opposite sides of culture change, from the unbidden aspects of culture that hold us back to the potential for loss of something worth keeping by targeting a change for the wrong reasons or in the wrong way.
A few years ago a client asked me to build an opportunity to reflect and review into the delivery of this talk. Each team was asked to consider their organisational practices through the lenses I'd presented in the talk. During their playback, one team raised the organisational drive for innovation that had been put in place the year before. In taking up my challenge to consider where culture drives thinking, they had realised that the organisation had targeted innovation in the way that they always approached new initiatives. They had put in place innovation processes, review boards and an innovation flow chart to provide the rules that they wanted to apply to innovation. Unsurprisingly, they had achieved very little innovation as their highly tuned process controls had achieved what they had always done and, in doing so, the organisation had reaped the same results that they always had, and none of it was innovative.
Their bias as a group and as an organisation was towards managed risk through controlled process; this was something they were very good at but unfortunately this bias pushed them to manage everything by tightly controlled process whether it needed it or not.
The trouble with biases is they are exactly that, a bias. If you believe that something 'should' be a certain way or should be delivered in a definite way then that's your bias talking and because it's your bias you will tend to see it as the only way. The stronger your belief is, the more likely it is that you will drive to manage things to match your belief. From there it's a short step to designing process to ensure your bias is delivered by everyone, writing policy that cements it in, and even demanding accreditation or qualification that matches your perceived view of how things 'should' be. And at some point, when everything matches how you think it should be, there will be little or no room for anything that is new. Innovation becomes a 'minor adjustment' at best.
There are many things that should be delivered consistently in an organisation but a good leader will ask themselves whether all things need to be delivered with consistency and conformity. For example, in a processing unit, quality is maintained through tight controls with no room for deviation. In a call centre, however, the basics of customer service are laid down as a consistent process but good service is delivered through one human being using their relationship skills to help another as opposed to following a uniform process. Does an engineer imagine multiple ways of delivering a new design or do they follow a laid down process? These are just a few examples that show there is a spectrum that runs between total conformity and chaotic imagineering; a spectrum that the manager defines.
In essence, as a manager you decide what really needs to be managed with conformity and where flexible thinking could benefit the organisation’s strategic objectives. One requires tight controls and the other needs inspirational leadership to release potential. To provide this level of leadership takes an awareness of your own biases. For example, If you tend towards perfection you may, on your own, create perfect results (but probably not within time and budget!) but as a manager this may translate into thinking that there is a 'right way that things should be done'. Checking in on those words 'right' and 'should', then testing yourself to see if its just your biases talking, may help your team to achieve a result that you couldn't imagine on your own. At the other end of the scale, you may be a creative and innovative thinker who does not like to be pinned down. In this case, you may avoid conformity like the plague and feel that better results will 'always' come from free thinking, which of course they don't in all circumstances.
All of this comes down to understanding your own value structure which is the core of your thinking process. Different from the behavioural styles that many of us have come to understand through DISC, MBTI and TMS (which represent how you do what you do), your value structure is the core of your thinking itself and drives the choices you make which in turn result in your actions (delivered through the aforementioned behavioural style). Inherent in your value structure are your biases, many of which will be unconscious for you. As a leader they will drive how you lead and how you lead will drive the organisation that you are the custodian of.
The inventiveness of your organisation is let loose or constrained by every action you take and every decision you make so choose the time and place for conformity or innovation based on the organisational need, not your unconscious bias.
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.
theCHANGEfactor™ brand was established in 1999 in the UK by Martin Fenwick. Prior to coming to New Zealand this resulted in projects in Belgium, Germany and France as well as throughout the UK.