We all love change, n’est-ce pas?
Being an agent for change. Driving change. Creating new ways of working, processes, business models… all that is great and something most business people would say they enjoy and stand for. So why is it that when change “happens” on a larger scale, many people have a strong degree of resistance to it, find it hard to participate in a constructive way. Even when they know and believe that the path the business is currently on, is no longer viable?
Surely only those who are living in the past want for things to remain as they are. Most people I know consider themselves agile, flexible, modern, driven, adaptable… what is it that creates defiance to new processes, structures, software in them?
What’s annoying you, Paul?
When asked about why he thought everything was so annoying, a friend, let’s call him Paul, told me: “Well, I am not involved, I am just told I will have to do x, y and z in the future”. A “they” vs. “us” or worse, “me” perception and attitude is a killer to constructive change.
It’s all about ownership
See, people like Paul are used to running with their part of the business. They have freedom to move in their own field of expertise. If Paul’s business is now going through a major change process, Paul will not have the same degree to decide, but the capital mistake the programme owner, senior management or whoever has initiated the change process has made is lack of involvement. Paul doesn’t feel ownership, he has not been able to contribute and his rather normal reaction to a fait accompli, which has been created by someone else, but which strongly impacts his part of the business is at least to stall. Paul crosses his arms and says: “No one spoke with me about this, how can “they” know this works?” – and finds 10 reasons why the new approach will be utterly useless.
At this point, this particular change process needs to be considered a failure.
You want someone to embrace an idea: you need to at least convince that person. But much better: involve them in the creation of the idea, make them own it. Every wise woman will know how to influence her partner, so that he considers major ideas to be his own.
This is no different in business: you make me want to do something? I will invest myself, time and effort and I will then live new developments and motivate and convince others.
Of course, communicating with people, bringing them on board is time consuming at the start of a programme or project when management expects quick wins and results. But there really is no alternative, anything else is lethal for the outcome. Respect needs to be shown to those in the business who have knowledge, no matter their title or place in the hierarchy.
There is no news in all of this
All this is not new and it isn’t rocket science. In fact, it was taught in universities quite a while ago. The digital world brings a lot of truly new factors with it, this isn’t one.
Today, techniques like workshopping, prototyping and early stage UX testing can help and they provide powerful tools to expedite changes and engage executives, developers, anyone involved alike.
Bring on Mr. John P. Kotter and his book “Leading Change”, written in 1996. It is still valid. Here are his 8 steps to be taken in the right order as a recommendation for leaders who need to successfully tranform businesses.
An article by Mr. Kotter from 2007 really sums this up, and I encourage anyone involved in a changing/evolving organisation to read it, he concludes with: “In reality, even successful change efforts are messy and full of surprises. But just as a relatively simple vision is needed to guide people through a major change, so a vision of the change process can reduce the error rate. And fewer errors can spell the difference between success and failure.” (https://hbr.org/2007/01/leading-change-why-transformation-efforts-fail).
Having said all that: there’s also attitude to consider. Paul might have not been such a sceptic if he worked in a collaborative environment. If a company’s culture is toxic, lacking trust on all levels and cynicism prevailing in every day business life, change will be much harder to manage, than in a trusting, positive, hands-on environment. Kind of obvious, really.
I leave you with some lyrics by Jack Johnson from “Change”:
“Just when you were getting used to this place
You were getting used to these bones
You were getting used to the changes
Well the change won’t leave you alone
You finally caught up with the pace
The tough just might have got going
You thought you could trust all the faces
Well they’re only on one side of the coin
All these changes
Turning page after page after page
It gets stranger day by day”
Keep moving, keep changing.