Change ready or change reluctant?

Is it time to transform the way your team views the world?

I recently asked a diverse group of business leaders what they think the business world will offer in the next year. Everyone came back with the same answers: more uncertainty, more disruption and more opportunities.

The conversation quickly came around to how their teams coped with complex adaptive change — it became obvious that everyone had stopped speaking the same language.

While some were using words like reluctance, resistance and avoidance, others were talking about adapting, shaping and challenging. The group had quite literally split into two camps. One camp highlighted the change readiness and resilience of their team, while a reluctance and resistance to do things differently frustrated the other.

The conversations highlighted arguably one of the biggest issues facing management: how to create an adaptive, change-ready workforce equipped to handle fast, frequent and disruptive change.

Change management is flawed

Let me be blunt. Change readiness isn’t a concept that sits well with the multi million dollar change management consulting industry. In its model, the central premise is that people are reluctant to change and therefore need a ‘change program’ that is carefully crafted to guide those who have change inflicted on them.

Nice idea — but flawed in at least three ways. First, this sort of ‘change thinking’ assumes that people will be arriving at a destination where they can enjoy stability again. Unfortunately, the reality of complex adaptive change means that’s not going to happen.

Second, it assumes that people are always reluctant to change which isn’t the case. They certainly find it challenging, but that’s what motivates many people to develop and grow.

Third, if you really want people to change, then don’t make someone else responsible for managing it for them.

That almost certainly assures you of passive avoidance.

Try a different approach

Instead of looking to change management practices, let’s look to some counter-intuitive principles and practices of performance psychology.

Principle 1: Get people to own the problem
While change management 101 tells you to sell the vision, the reality in the trenches is that people will come on board much better if they understand the harsh reality. By all means give them a sense of purpose, but don’t sugar-coat the story.

Principle 2: Teach them to problem solve
The single most powerful tool we use when working with enterprises to build change readiness is collaborative problem-solving. Be mindful though, this doesn’t mean training everyone to be a Six-Sigma expert. Start by coaching your people in how to play their part in teams to tackle business problems together, and you’re on the way to having a workforce that innovates its way through disruption, instead of protecting itself.

Principle 3: Get the experts out of their silos
The big challenges in business aren’t going to be solved just in the finance or sales department. One of the best ways to get people more open to change is to help them see how people from other areas think and act when faced with disruption. This has a double benefit of reducing silo behaviour and boosting adaptability.

Principle 4: Tell people about their strengths
Confident people are more likely to be adaptive and resilient, so it makes sense to give lots of positive reinforcement to individuals and teams. What would your team say you’ve done to boost confidence this year?

Principle 5: Learn from ‘trial and small errors’
A common feature of change management is to wait until everything is totally planned and then move ahead. That works fine in a nicely stage-gated project, but it will do nothing to build the skills that you see in nimble, adaptive teams. By all means plan your business change projects, but if you want the people to also learn to be more adaptive, then you need to give them the chance to learn (and occasionally fail) on the run.

A perfect time

There seems little doubt that continuing complexity and change will test the resilience and adaptability of everyone in business.

What better time to put together a plan to turn your team into a nimble and adaptive outfit that can handle anything that the unpredictable world throws at it.

Are you ready?