What is Change?
It seems to happen rather often and in every area of our lives, be that the personal or the professional.
Well change is the journey — It isn’t the event and there’s also a great quote from Tomasi de Lampedusa’s novel, ‘The Leopard’ that goes, “Everything must change in order to remain the same”.
But for many change in any form represents uncertainty — It creates doubt — It’s something to be wary of — it upsets the order of things — &, well many of us just don’t like it. It can cause a threat response in our Brain that zaps our neural energy, plays havoc with our memory and undermines & thwarts performance.
There are three types of ‘People’ & responses when it comes to change:
- The strong resistor
- the eager embracer (your natural Champion, if you like), &
- the middle majority
And how an individual will respond in any given situation can pretty much be determined by how safe they feel, and whether they think sufficient attention is being paid to their well-being.
In the workplace, if an employee feels that a planned change will threaten their current well-being, they are likely to be non-receptive and resistant. If however they feel the change is a manageable challenge they are more likely to be better attuned and therefore feel more positive and accepting.
And the real success of any change programme will be determined by the people in that organisation who are emotionally engaged and receptive.
Indeed, the importance of this cannot be overstated. Recent research has found that in many change scenarios and up to nine months after the change has been completed, less than 40% of employees are committed to the new way of working, whilst a staggering further 43% may well have accepted that the change has happened, but are still not fully engaged.
A sobering thought perhaps for anyone considering, or about to embark on a programme of change, n’est pas?
In the workplace there are 3 main types of change:
- Directional Change
- Transitional Change, &
- Transformational Change
Each requires specific strategies for implementation in order for the change process to be successful and effective and in this piece I’m going to focus on Transformational Change which is by far the most complex and difficult to implement.
The technique of Appreciative Inquiry (which I look at in more detail in a companion piece, ‘Accentuate the Positives — A Brief Guide to Appreciative Inquiry’ also on Medium) is certainly something that could be used in support of a Transformational Change process, as the very act of discussing positive events can be a transformative experience in itself. I would however also contend that Transformational Change requires a clear Transformational Strategy and Transformational Leadership: Both together and not one, or the other!
Change is a constant in our lives
We live in a world of impermanence — A state of flux, and the need to change is becoming more frequent, radical and complex.
The demand for deep-reaching, sustainable change within Organisations is being driven by hard forces, which are coming from all directions. Whether Private or Public Sector, big or small, Businesses face disruption to Competition & Shareholders demanding more; Organisations face increasing Regulation, new Legislation and new Government targets, shifting priorities and different expectations. When you also factor in across the board rapidly evolving Technology, the pressure to achieve and deliver more with less resource, &, customer expectations generally, we can all see that matters are very far from stable.
At each point and at every interstice there is an inherent tension, &, in these flexed scenarios with constant pressure being applied externally, Change can also appear to be a very high-risk strategy; particularly if it is not properly thought through, communicated and executed. Yet the price of doing nothing can ultimately mean an even greater cost being paid!
The Bottom Line is Change Projects fail because Organisations fail to implement the change fully; perhaps because they don’t fully understand or accept the reasons making change necessary, or are less than wholly committed to the process and the outcomes.
In 2006 Dr Janet Jackson identified four reasons why Organsiational Change initiatives fail:
- The primary focus is on the technology of change (Change projects turned into management projects run by project managers using PRINCE2 & singularly failing to engage with the workforce in any meaningful way whatsoever)
- Organisations overlook the importance of people in the Change & do not fully address their concerns (Not using techniques such as Appreciative Inquiry for instance)
- Ignoring the Whole System and failing to appreciate that the Change undertaken is therefore only impacting on a portion of the Organisation: &
- Leadership & Management failing to understand the difference between Change, Transition & Transformation.
This last reason is a particularly interesting one. I believe that to challenge and overcome any of these reasons for failure, people inside the Organisation must firstly be supported to develop the knowledge, skills and processes to create sustainable and enduring change, &, a common language (or narrative) co-created and shared.
This will also help to avoid any employee push-back to the Change; particularly through the stages of adjustment, initial success & growth, chaos, process and strategy shifts, &, subsequent reemergence following the envisioning and learning which will occur during the Change Journey.
F Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “One should…be able to see that things are hopeless, yet be determined to make them otherwise”.
I would also suggest that the future is not so unpredictable and uncertain, even if change is a constant; particularly if you view Organisational & Business life as not entirely random — Stochastic, yes — but not random — & this perspective is key to being able to take a strategic overview and not lose sight of the reasons why the transformation journey is being undertaken in the first place & the direction the Organisation or Business and its people need to travel.
But is it all just Smoke & Mirrors?
Of course there is a view and it has a certain weight that transformation, particularly when set with change, is just another, Buzz Term; & whilst it is intended to galvanise everybody into collegiate action, it is in fact just smoke and mirrors and usually relates only to where some measure of incremental improvement has been achieved.
Clearly just incremental improvement alone will not cut it in today’s V.U.C.A World.
However, I am seeing through many of the LinkedIn Group forums and other professional on-line fora where I pose questions and contribute to discussions based on my experience around Organisational Development practice and the impact of Transformational Change, that there is still a consensus on the need for radical change and a ready appetite to engage; particularly if it is focusing on new Operating Models.
This involves re-examining what the core organisational purpose is; what the organisation should stop doing; how it will remodel & retool its end-to-end processes for the activities it has decided through the use of Appreciative Inquiry for example, to continue to operate; which activities it has identified that others can provide on its behalf; & ultimately leading from all this the Data on how it should then best organise itself.
By this definition, if an Organisation becomes largely unrecognisable from what it once was, then this is ipso facto true transformational change!
6 Critical Factors
But what are the critical success factors which will help to ensure that the organisational requirements for change are in place and can be managed and delivered effectively?
I have identified 6 which need to be focused on and where an appropriate balance &/or critical mass of commitment and willingness to change must be achieved:
- Effective Change Leadership: Strong and committed Leadership needs to be observable and credible, making a clear signal of intent from the outset and maintaining momentum to enable the workforce to move quickly from understanding to supporting the initiative; When Leadership is weak people may not believe the Change is worth supporting or investing time and effort in and they become more likely to focus their efforts on maintaining the status quo rather than moving forward; particularly if there is a legacy of poorly implemented change which has undermined credibility;
- Powerful Engagement Processes: Planned formal approaches need to be developed which bring people and the Change together in a purposeful way to help them to deal with any doubts, overcome resistance and build commitment to the Change whilst new behaviours have a chance to firmly embed into the Culture; Powerful Engagement processes provide ways for people to effectively connect with change, to gain a sense of control, to be appropriately rewarded, to engage in communication, &, to develop the knowledge and competence to behave in new ways;
- A Shared Change Purpose: Once again as regular followers of my writing will know, creating a shared and common purpose is central to how I & The Mudd Partnership works with Organisations, Businesses, Executive Boards, Multi-Agency Partnerships and High Performing Teams; Articulating, communicating and maintaining a shared purpose helps create a sense of urgency, brings energy, provides clarity and encourages ownership & unity — It is the critical first step at the launch of a Change Initiative; A shared purpose will feature a clear imperative (i.e. the reason why people cannot remain in the status quo), a vision for Change and the proposed solution, &, Appreciative Inquiry techniques can be tremendously valuable in developing the narrative and buy-in in support of this;
- Committed Local Sponsors: As I’ve have already pointed out in previous pieces on Organisational Development & Change Management, the role of local sponsors is critical in connecting the work done at the organisational level to the reality that people have to change at the local level to ensure the success of the initiative; So strong, committed and accountable Change Leadership also needs to come from the Middle and Front-Line managers who will take personal responsibility, model the new behaviours, &, ensure that other individuals apply the change to their own areas; Change initiatives also fail where a gap emerges between a Sponsor’s announcement and subsequent local actions, &, research suggests that employees pay most attention to messages from their immediate boss and often discard anything which may conflict with it;
- A Strong Personal Connection: This occurs when individuals affected by the Change recognise that they personally cannot continue to work in the current way, believe the solution is acceptable and understand how they can be successful in the future; Commitment to the Change needs to be built and maintained by the Local Sponsors and ideally everyone should be encouraged and supported in owning the process and outcomes by being able to see personal opportunities for themselves which will reduce the tendency for natural resistance, detachment, or in a worst case scenario, actual denial; & finally
- Sustained Personal Performance: Change can also fail because people’s concerns are not addressed around the financial or relationships aspects and this affects performance; constant attention needs to be paid to managing personal issues at each step & before the change is anchored in the workplace to ensure that the momentum is not lost or the impact of the outcome negated. So don’t forget to pay Attention to everybody’s well-being!
Thank you for reading and I hope this all helps to build the habit and change for good!
Paul Mudd is the author of ‘Uncovering Mindfulness: In Search Of A Life More Meaningful’ available on Amazon and www.bookboon.com; the ‘Coffee & A Cup of Mindfulness’ and the ‘Mindful Hacks For Mindful Living & Mindful Working’ series. He is also a Contributing Author to The Huffington Post and a Contributing Writer to Thrive Global. Through The Mudd Partnership he works with business leaders, organisations and individuals in support of change, leadership excellence, business growth, organistional and individual wellbeing and well doing, and introducing Mindfulness. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow the continuing journey uncovering Mindfulness on Twitter @TheMindfulBook and at @Paul_Mudd