Why so many organisations are so bad at change and what it takes to get in control.

In Managing change successfully (March-April 2008), sponsored by Celerant Consulting a number of interesting findings suggested that at the top of the agenda for business leaders over the next two years will be organizational flexibility for operational efficiency.

Interestingly the report also demonstrated that the success rate of change initiatives amongst 607 firms polled was as low as 50%.
The blame for failed change projects

51% put the failures down to “winning hearts and minds” followed by 31% citing “Lack of clearly defined achievable milestones” and then “lack of management buy-in ” and   “poor communication”.

These responses don’t describe a failed change management programme, they describe non existence of a change programme, i.e little more than a wish.

Why do organisations struggle to change?

Well this is the subject of many books, so this blog is not going to attempt to discuss it in depth, but the key concepts to consider are that:

(1) when you put any group of people together in a team of any size, there will be power struggles, certain individuals will dominate and the rest will follow. This soon becomes a comfortable arrangement whereby individuals find ways to meet their needs from the team.

(2) When you move the goal posts in an organisation, you are effectively melting the glue and throwing all the pieces back onto a pile.  Hence the cries of pain. “How will I demonstrate my value to the team if  I don’t know what is required of me?” “How will I build a new power base”, “maybe there will no longer be any need for my skills”, “nobody really values me now, they just don’t realise that I’m dispensable”.
This is senior managers crying out, so you can imagine how the lower levels are feeling.

Operations is rarely a big challenge, people on shop floors, in trucks, or wherever are usually happy enough to absorb change as long as they are treated well, equipped for the work and valued. Their unions may negotiate for concessions, but ultimately they are not the problem.

How could this be different.

Well once again there is a temptation to write a book, but there are plenty of those out there already,  what is needed is good old fashioned common sense and a bit of leadership.

If an organisation is to be steerable then there has to be an efficient communication of direction form the brain to the legs and an appropriate response from the legs. Not a hugely complex concept.
As we all know, intelligent people in a modern workplace can’t be coerced into anything successfully. At best they will pretend to comply and hang on indefinitely, undermining things at every opportunity. The alternative is to provide direction and leadership:

1.       Communicate a clear direction loudly, clearly and honestly until it is understood at not just a strategic level, but one whereby individuals can begin to see at a micro level how they can, or can not fit into this new team.

2.       Facilitate and orchestrate the team forming and norming instead of waiting for months, or years until the squabbling is over.

3.       Develop real value propositions for your key people based on their needs. If you are in doubt or want to get a head start in understanding their needs you can begin with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and make sure that what you are offering them gives them an equivalent, or better level to what they have now and a motivator to get them going.
In simple terms their needs can be described as;
The need to survive( not usually an issue)
The need for shelter (rarely an issue)
The need to interact socially ( this can be important)
 The need for personal development (now we are at the centre of it)
 The need to progress towards your life ambition.
These last three are the battle ground on which all the squabbles are fought and with a little planning and intelligent management action, much of it can be channeled into positive energy.

4.       If you can align your business goals to the individual goals of your key people, then you have a win/win scenario that is sheer magic.

5.       Now that you have created a healthy positive culture, have your key managers cascade this down all the way to the bottom layer

Who should do it?

The people with the skills to plan and execute this are senior HR managers and Change managers, but the person who must unquestionably own this whole process and be seen to own and believe in it passionately is the Chief Executive. It doesn’t necessary call for a lot of his time, but for quality time.

Ed Taaffe


Four foundations of change management.

1. The organisation and the individuals that comprise it are different issues
2. Changing attitudes is achieved one by one, changed behaviour is a group activity
3. The change agent is not leading or driving but acting as a catalyst and facilitator
4. The change agent and his peers must be united in rationale and in mutual support
Silos, individuals and a single team – Exploding the myth.
“All for one and one for all” is a load of old c.’’@’., s
There is no single team, not even in top flight football. There are individuals and silos that have sufficient common cause, mutually understood process, just sufficient mutual trust and just sufficient understanding of the team dynamic to get the job done. And that’s as good as it gets.

Silos are not all bad, they are just teams with the wrong focus
Let’s not be too hard on Silos. First of all the gurus that designed what has become the modern organisation started off by designing silos. Quality people who never make anything, HR people who never manage anyone, Project managers with no reports and on and on.
It’s not surprising for example, that accounts like each other’s company and that they do battle with sales who are keen to give bigger discounts and more added value.
In the pecking order of the organisation, it is inevitable that some people will find their corner of the pond in favour or out of favour at different times and will then form a silo of their own.
Silos are created to protect ill gotten gains or to defend against a perceived threat. When the Normans invaded England and when the British invaded America, the first thing they did was build a great defensive silos and climb inside it.

Changing individual behaviour is not the same as changing individuals
The first is your moral duty the second is morally wrong unless you are a therapist working with the persons consent.
Managing individuals in the workplace must be done with complete respect for the individuals private psychological space. Only behaviour is monitored or commented on.
E.G. An individual may ignore the new procurement dept and call a supplier directly. This is not perverting the system, it is not obstructing change, it is not being awkward or being anything! It is just making a single error of behaviour. It should be treated that way.

Listen to them and hear them, understand their views on office politics and territorial behaviour and empathise with their fears, but don’t blame them for feeling fear.
Every reaction is an action and every action results in a reaction.
Don’t react to behaviour that is not what you hoped for. Each action will bring an equal and opposite reaction and hence people become entrenched. Let it ride and approach it positively at an appropriate time when the message will be received and no threat will be felt.

Walk a bit in their shoes
You can never expect to be listened to, or to be heard, until you are seen making a genuine effort to understand the other point of view. That’s a big leap of faith on your behalf, but until you accept it and make, it you can never expect that same leap of faith from the other individual.
Stop and think about it, if you are not prepared to listen, you have already discounted that individual completely and are therefore imposing your will with force on them, be it for good or bad. That is a sure fired recipe for resistance and reaction.

Make sure you have a rational you can really believe and evangelise before you start work in earnest.
If you are going to lay your sole bare and let them take a pot shot at you in order to earn the right to pitch them, then you had better be very confident and be well prepared. Developing a vision is like developing a value proposition for a new product, you need to start with experts and test on real customers until you hone it into something that is bomb proof, and boiled down enough to pitch someone going the opposite way on an escalator.

Remove and allay fear to accelerate change
When people are being asked to change the way they work and abandon skills they have come to rely on for their security, it is not surprising that they will resist.
Winning hearts and minds is important, but it is only one step on the ladder. Once you have convinced them conceptually, you then need to give them the wherewithal to change and a bit of encouragement to make the final move.

Process is a great place to start
Once you have won the conceptual fight, you then need to begin painting in some of the detail. The best way to get a workforce very familiar with a new way for working is by designing and verifying the processes via a systematic approach involving increasing numbers of the workforce as the result becomes more polished and closer to completion.
Involving people in designing their future helps to achieve buy-in and begins the process of transferring ownership from you to them.

Training is a key component
Here is you chance to sweeten the pill by providing new bankable skills through training. Suddenly people are in a classroom situation getting a dress rehearsal and things become much clearer and a lot less fearsome. A change is as god as a rest once the fear has gone away and with confidence in their new capabilities, you will see a new attitude emerge and a healthy competition will begin to develop.

Tools and systems
When you coax a horse onto a new stable, you often have to face him to the door and stand there a long while until he builds up the courage. Too much pushing can spell disaster and in desperate cases you have to blindfold him, but once he is in there, you close and firmly lock the door.
In our age of automated process, it is almost inevitable that a change brings with it a new set of software tools to support the new processes. These can be seen as an extra hurdle to cross or as a friend and ally. I tend to see it as an ally, because once the processes are accepted and automated, it has the same effect as closing the stable door. The old is switched off and the new is here to stay.
Now build in excellence
You’ve done the hard work and you now have the most receptive and malleable workforce you will have had for a long time with enthusiasm, self belief and optimism for the future.
All you have to do now is keep it going long enough until it becomes a habit and then develops silos and then the next change comes along and . .
Don’t stop now, build in continuous improvement, teach them to develop better faster processes and tools, encourage innovations and ideas and keep the optimism and dynamism going.
Ed Taaffe

Don’t you want your change sir?

Let me ask you a few simple questions. Do you have a favourite tipple?

Why is it your favourite?

Was it always your favourite?

What was your previous favourite?

What made you change?

If you tried your current favourite sooner, would you have had more enjoyment out of life?

Do you think it is likely that one day you will try another drink and like it better?

Maybe you could apply this argument to your job, or hobby if this is more meaningful.

The thing most of get out of this little exercise is the realisation that we probably all miss out on a great deal by being adverse to trying new things until we find ourselves directly in their path and suddenly discover a new source of pleasure or value. The second point that generally emerges from this exercise is the realisation that we are all generally content with adequacy rather than in pursuit of excellence or optimisation of value or pleasure perceived.

Now let’s play for bigger stakes. Does your family have a favourite restaurant? Was this always the case?. How did you arrive at the consensus that this was you favourite restaurant? Are there one or two who don’t agree, but go along to keep the peace?

What would have to happen in order for you to adapt a new restaurant?

What would make you seek out a new one, who would instigate this and how would the decision get made
  I suspect that these simple questions woke a few skeletons in most household cupboards. Hopefully they also lead you to consider how your family deal with these issues. Does one person lay the law down and solve the issue?
  Do you talk it out until there is consensus?
  Do you give way to certain individuals who seem to have the knack of getting their own way?
  Or maybe there’s a close knit clique who stick together and dominate everything. How will you decide whether it was a good decision or whether to keep trying?
  What will make you settle for a new place?
  Fatigue? Lack of ideas? Adequacy? Excellence?

There are many potential ways forward, but that’s not as important as stopping to think about how a close knit organisation with trust and communication go about changing their behaviour in some small way.