Monday 9 November 2009

Why "Change Management" is an Oxymoron........

I'm a big fan of William Bridges. Many people think the likes of John Cotter and Spencer Johnson are the gurus where 'Change' is concerned. Much as I rate and value their work, Bridges messages are more pertinent and fundamental. Let me tell you why. Bridges demystifies Change BECAUSE he looks at it from the point of view of the least powerful people in any Change situation. This is the group upon which the entire Change effort depends. Who are these people? They are the silent majority. The people who do the work. The people on whom we rely on most to change, yet invest in the least. We're missing a trick and we don't even know it.

He makes 2 great points. They are linked, but separate.

Don't confuse CHANGE with TRANSITION.......The man's a genius! So what does he mean?

Change is what's demanded by external factors. The economy, competition, credit crunch, internal reorganisation etc. The reason why Change needs to take place. 90% of all change efforts are directed here...WRONG CHOICE!!!!

Transition is about the individual change journey people undergo........Aha. No wonder people resits change so much, it's being done to them and they're being managed through it. Yet one of the fundamental principles of Change is that when people are involved in decisions they're not only co-operative, but often go beyond the call of duty to support the change effort..........

This begs the question then why don't we spend 90% of our time, effort and resources supporting the journey of the silent majority?.... I believe it's because we foolishly think 1 of 2 things;

1. They're too stupid to understand so we'll tell them what to do (get them on board, wink, wink)
2. This way will be quicker...........(how painful the other way will be. We'll keep one step ahead)

Even as I write this the stupidity of it registers with me. No wonder so many change initiatives fail...They're loaded with design faults!! Bridges refers to most programmes as being "change heavy and transition light"

In my own time as a Consultant, one of the things that struck me was I thought we were delivering change. In fact I finally realised we were getting through programmes of work through the medium of compliance. It was also really hard work and not very gratifying!

Whether we like it or not this principle is true for most people; "fast is slow and slow is fast". Speeding through change makes about as much sense as trying to reduce the pregnancy cycle from 9 months to 6 or accelerating through the grieving process. Just because it's work doesn't make it any less personal. In fact it may take longer depending on the person and the situation.
Change is often associated with loss (losing offices, losing staff, losing customers, losing status, downsizing, doing more with less, losing routine etc). Cattle prods don't really work in this space. What does work is, 1 to 1's, asking questions, seeking to understand, displaying empathy. Da Vinci famously said that everything links to everything else, that's what you need to do with people here (join up the dots!). The key skill is not to assume you know how to do this (what's best for others, how they'll react etc). Show some humility and respect to ask some questions, listen, and process the answers you get back. Then act on what you're told, mainly by doing what you say you'll do! This is how Trust is built....Why else should people believe that the new world will be better, safer than the old?

I liken this to my own reflections on how many times I've extended Trust to others and how many times I've been "turned over"...Overall it's less than 10%. When we extend trust and genuinely get people on board Change is more like water over stones than rolling huge boulders up big hills.

When you apply the 80/20 rule to Transitions instead of just to Change, you start off on the right foot. Change will still be challenging, but you are at least working on the right things instead of scoring own goals and fighting a rearguard action..........Go on share your own war stories!


Unknown said...

Really good piece about the merits of valuing people through transition instead of "managing" them through change. Chimes with my own experience, I just never thought about it in that way. Off to Amazon to order up some of Mr. Bridges titles. M

Alasdar Browne said...

Thanks Myriam for taking the time to comment. If you need any material on this I can send you on a few slides. He's a fine author.