Change Management – are we setting ourselves up for failure?

‘Change Management’ is a perplexing term.  It conjures up the notion that change can in fact be managed.  The very words ‘change’ and ‘management’ used together are quite an ironic juxtaposition (for those of you who enjoy English!).  Change may be influenced, monitored and well planned, however it can never be ‘managed’.  Those charged with the role of change management have one of the toughest jobs in the world (and probably deserve danger pay!).  These people are accountable for managing change – they must in fact do the impossible.  

Even worse, we give people these titles.  You probably have one yourself or something similar.   Therefore, it is often one of the toughest jobs to perform effectively.  If not managed delicately, it can lead to serious failure.  This leads to my mantra that we are really still primal beings.  Our primal fears become heightened during change.  This can lead people reacting to change in a highly charged emotional manner.  Obviously there are many complexities but getting it wrong leads to defensive behavior, scapegoating, bullying, blaming and even termination of employment.  Though this aritcle, we’ll address some of the underlying dynamics that will help you as a change agent to make lasting, transparent change in your organisation. 

I’ll go into this later in the paper but for now I’ll keep it lighthearted with an analogy…

Remember the age-old story when someone says to you, “I need to tell you something… but you have to promise me you won’t laugh, cry, get angry etc”.  They agree.  You have gained their trust.  You tell them your story and instantly they react in the exact opposite direction you were trying to manage.  Whilst this is light-hearted, it shows that you tried to ‘manage’ an impossible outcome.  You cannot predict how someone will react. Regardless of the story, we really are hurting if you think you can control people’s reactions.  This is important when managing change.  The factors you need to take in prior to any change is highly complex.  I’ll give you a few opinions on navigating and influencing for the best outcomes.

Get an outside mentor – This needs to be someone you can confidently confide in and has no connection to the organisation or even your work.  A psychologist can be a good start.  I would suggest Evelyn Field OAM.  She specialises in looking into dynamics and can help keep you grounded and resilient during the process.  She also is great at identifying defensive behaviour (even bullying) which will help you navigate the organisation.

Understanding the tipping point – what has occurred to create the need for change?.  This requires deep analysis from all ends of the organisational spectrum.  You need to look behind every door (so to speak) and cut through (or use it as your analysis) the politics.,  You must understand the social fabric of the organisation.  This needs the most attention.  Keep asking why, why, why until you get to the bottom.  It is very easy to trip up at this point if you don’t know how to do this delicately and you must use every fibre of your perceptive parts.   The tipping point may be the tip that is actually way beneath the surface of the organisation so look in every direction!

What is the hurt in the organisation – Like finding the tipping point this is about delving further into finding the causal effect.  It could be economic factors, high staff turnover, lack of motivation or the need for a total realignment.  Again getting to the why but also gaining insight into the how.

Gaining Trust – Coming into an organisation simply to change it means you are coming in as an untrustworthy suspect from the ‘get-go’.  People will either align themselves with you or go to the furthest end of the room.  Neither of these are alarming but simply give you insight into how they perceive the change.  Gaining trust at to top is critical and so is it for the entire organisation.

Be Transparent and Inclusive – share your findings in a delicate way to the organisation.  Particularly the CEO and middle management but be sure to include everyone.  Get them involved – after all you are actually trying to improve the organisation, its capabilities and is people.  Set up regular staff meetings to share the journey.

Roadblocks – these will occur in almost every organisation during change.  They are more prevalent in larger organisations where sign off, boards and executives need to be informed but smaller organisations where owners want to be involved in every part can be a sign they need to control the situation.  It also be a ‘smoke and mirrors’ attempt to thwart the change altogether.  I’m definitively not saying this is in every organisation but I’ve seen it in middle management where a change need was identified by the executive team but middle management wanted to control it (possibly through fear) which lead to the change not occurring at all (and losses of great amounts of money).

What, When, Who and Where – when you have completed your analysis and ready to make your recommend change ensure you have a clear timeline including what will occur, when it will occur, who it will affect and where in the organisation the changes will take place.  If you have kept your communication open and transparent, this should be the easy part.

You are masters of change and know how to identify change then implement it but this will help you navigate the underlying dynamics of change.

Remember, we are all primal and act in ways that even the most upstanding citizen would embarrass themselves by!

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