Changing the way we change

by HCA24 Jun 2009

These are not easy times. Managing change is de-rigueur for executives. Leaders, more than ever, need to anticipate change in an ever changing world. With unrelenting pressure to look for new sources of competitive advantage or address the structural changes that are occurring within and across the business with a new level of thinking, executives are looking for fresh ways to deal with the complexities of change. Change is the corporate zeitgeist.

Despite a real desire by executives to deliver successful restructuring and process improvements, research shows that 66% of all change initiatives fail with only one transformation in three succeeding. What this confirms is that change and transition outcomes are achieved by more than hard-metric results. It is how people get those results.

When we know the way ahead we can be proactive. If we can predict or create the change we are better prepared. Aligning group efforts with future scenarios for improvements in lead-business lines, critical market segments, current key client groups or targeted clients can be an effective change catalyst.

Action-based group approaches facilitate the change journey as they are based on an insightful adult learning concept: people are more likely to act their way into new thinking, than to think their way into new actions. Processes that exploit high-performance, encourage no-fault brainstorming, foster participative decision making and stress a clear understanding of the need to act-now create new levels of engagement.

Design is critical. First, create an environment that is safe enough to give a voice to silent questions, but intense enough to create a distinctive change. Next, use a real-life business challenge that is relevant, important and the stakes are high. Third, get to the core business issues so that people can talk honestly around the facts and listen deeply. Meaningful conversation, reframing assumptions and suspending opinions helps the flow of possibilities. Finally, the team is led in such a way that conflict is utilised and solutions can emerge from unlikely sources in this multi-function and multi-level group.

These groups have a collective identity and an acoustic quality that makes the participants more aware of their thinking, conversations and interconnections. Think of a jazz group where every player is a specialist, but every player is also part of the group whose collective goal is to produce a melody - so each player must listen to and respond to the other players. Listen to the definitive Miles Davis' Kind of Blue album. Each of the famed musicians improvised from a base to then explore (search, vary, expand) or exploit (refine, repeat, hone). They also respond to each other in a way that, as pianist Bill Evans observed, requires "the very human, even social need for sympathy from all members to bend for the common result."

Attitudes to change influence implementation. What appears to be resistance, opposition or inertia is really a personal assumption that keeps people acting in a certain way. People can have one commitment to do what the situation seems to require; and another conviction that creates an inner conflict that prevents them from achieving their goals. Understanding this is critical for leaders driving change management. Some powerful coaching questions can uncover the subconscious assumptions of people's behaviour, guiding them through a productive process so they can release the ability to change.

People do not resist change per se; what they resist is loss. Change requires letting go of an old identity. The people who show most resilience during transition choose to be involved in events rather than feeling isolated; they try to control outcomes and shape their perspective rather than lapse into passivity and powerlessness; and they view stressful changes (whether positive or negative) as a challenge with opportunities for new learning. Accountability and ownership means change becomes part of who they are.

Seizing the opportunities that change presents and using them as a source of market advantage, while overcoming any natural resistance to change, is often an executive's greatest challenge. The half life of executive capability is short. Without the ability to leverage change from collaborative relationships, individual and technical skills are all but temporal strengths for executives.

About the author

Dianne Jacobs is founding principal at The Talent Advisors www.thetalentadvisors.com, a boutique talent consulting and executive coaching firm. She is a former equity partner at Goldman Sachs JBWere. She may be contacted at dianne@thetalentadvisors.com

COMMENTS

  • by Kelly Magowan 4/07/2009 2:11:56 PM

    Dianne this is an interesting article and your point that 'People do not resist change per se; what they resist is loss' is very true. Another issue attached to change is risk, as change invariably brings different levels of risk. Particularly for employees and executives in larger organizations, which by their very makeup often don’t have a strong risk taking culture, where failure through taking risks and making changes often goes punished. Therefore it is any wonder that people are reluctant and uncomfortable with change, as the messages being sent can be conflicting with change and risk taking being okay is some instances i.e. redundancies and restructuring or new system implementation, yet not okay when it comes to innovative business and process changes.

  • by Kelly Magowan 4/07/2009 2:12:32 PM

    Dianne this is an interesting article and your point that 'People do not resist change per se; what they resist is loss' is very true. Another issue attached to change is risk, as change invariably brings different levels of risk. Particularly for employees and executives in larger organizations, which by their very makeup often don’t have a strong risk taking culture, where failure through taking risks and making changes often goes punished. Therefore it is any wonder that people are reluctant and uncomfortable with change, as the messages being sent can be conflicting with change and risk taking being okay is some instances i.e. redundancies and restructuring or new system implementation, yet not okay when it comes to innovative business and process changes.

  • by Marianne Matin 14/07/2009 1:47:20 PM

    A good article. I like your quote" people are more likely to act their way into new thinking, than to think their way into new actions". I have often heard "you behaved your way into the problem, so you need to behave your way out of it".

    In terms of loss, this is typically one of three things: competence, community or control (3 c”s):
    1. Competence – will I be able to do it?
    2. Community – losing the people they worked with.
    3. Control – feeling powerless or not part of decision-making

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