A Constant State of Change
We are in a constant state of change. Most of that change is so imperceptible that we don’t even realise it occurs until we look back several years and notice its impact. Sometimes we are faced with the need for drastic transformational change, both personally and professionally. It is this change that often causes a range of mixed reactions – especially when it involves others.
In both cases intentionality plays a critical part in the impact the change has for us individually or collectively. Sometimes we don’t have control over the actual change that is taking place. However, in these times we do have the choice on how to interpret the change and reframe it in a useful way. For example, we all grow old but choosing our attitude towards this problem can make a significant difference in the way we age.
Sometimes we do have a degree of control over what we change and how we change. In these times we must ask ourselves the critical question ‘what is the change for?’ Most organisations engage with this type of change on a regular basis and find it challenging to engage their employees in fully committing to the process. Much of the reason for this is that the reason for change is not communicated, but rather the steps that management believe takes to achieve it.
In my experience the success an organisation has in engaging their employees in a change process is directly proportional to the quality of their intentions.
What is the change for?
Answering this question requires the change leaders to understand every stakeholder’s perspectives; for change to be embraced by everyone there must be a valuable outcome for everybody involved.
Typically, private organisations change to generate shareholders benefits and in the process they completely forget to articulate what benefits there might be to other critical stakeholders that will be charged to implement the change.
In the case of public organisations the change should be in the interest of the public, yet it is often decided upon and implemented independently from the public engagement. If we are clear who the change is for, it makes it easier for people to engage with it.
What do we stand to lose?
Social science tells us that we are more motivated by the fear of losing what we already have rather than the possibility of gaining something we don’t have. In change, we often refer to it as “the burning platform”.
Carefully understanding what we do stand to lose if we don’t change can create a strong motivator for change. It is also important to understand what we stand to lose if we do change. The problem here is to clearly understand the long-term implications of change.
Often our attention focuses on selling the change initiative to stakeholders, enhancing positive outcomes and reducing the impact of negative outcomes. This is a very dangerous approach as it generates a bias on critical cost benefits analysis.
When we engage with change new perspectives emerge that might make the change counter-productive, but we are reluctant to backtrack because the level of commitment and investment to that point is so great we don’t want to lose it.
Where are we heading?
The best way to focus people in engaging with change is to clearly articulate the final destination. This is the essence of successful change as it functions as a beacon. Every time we face a challenge along the change way knowing the details of that destination allows us to make the necessary adjustments.
Even when the change programme start to show signs of potential losses we can stop and reorganise to prevent such losses while focusing on the benefits and keeping our eyes on the ultimate prize.
What’s in the way?
To engage people in the change process we must also become aware of what stops them from moving forward. The core job of leaders in charge of implementing critical change is to clear the path of any obstacles that make it difficult to pursue. Clearing that path is about providing clarity, simplifying processes, mediating conflict, providing necessary resources etc. The easier it is to walk the change path the more likely people are to follow it.
What is everyone’s role?
This is a critical question because ultimately engaging people in change requires them to do something. We have to be clear about what we expect from every individual. They have to be clear about what is expected of them and how they are expected to interact with each other.
Most of us want to control change. The reality is that change is something that emerges, we can choose to adapt to the change as it emerges, and we can shape the way it unfolds, but that requires understanding its purpose, engaging everyone in the effort, and being prepared to let it go.
Fabio Grassi is the Programme Director for the IMI Diploma in Executive Coaching. Fabio is a specialist in the development of team performance, collaboration and motivation.