Change Management… I always wanted to know what that term meant. Doesn’t change just happen? And how on earth are you expected to ‘manage’ it? Change happens and you either adapt or you don’t. And there are consequences for either outcome. Sometimes people are aware that they will face consequences and other times they think by just pretending change isn’t happening, they can make it go away. You’d think that unless people were in a closet most of their lives and had never heard of Darwin, they would understand that inability to adapt can have a variety of different consequences from the more benign to …death! Maybe most people figure they are mostly on the benign end of the spectrum and therefore aren’t worried.
For a fairly classic definition of change management, see here.
So back to the initial assumption about change. I call this the Yoda Quotient based on Yoda’s famous quote, “Do or Do Not. There is no Try.” The Yoda Quotient is an expression of a black and white world where things happen or they don’t but you don’t get any brownie points for making an effort.
As harsh as it may seem, if your organization really needs to change in order to survive, trying really hard but achieving nothing won’t get you very far. Because trying to survive and actually being able to survive are two different things. So, in order for change to really take root, the Yoda Quotient needs to be accompanied by the Godzilla Effect – how afraid are you of being eaten? If you are afraid enough of the fact that the future market/competition/product advancement/technological innovation will eclipse you if you don’t change, you will be able to succeed in changing.
If you are not adequately scared, if you are not appropriately moved by the Godzilla Effect, you won’t.
So that leaves us with one fairly immutable fact about Change Management. It won’t happen if you’re not scared on some level. You won’t drive with the force (sorry… I’ll stop with the Star Wars references) necessary to see it all the way through. So when we read about Change Management and we see the many references to the steps that an organization has to go through, what they’re really doing is breaking down cold fear into a manageable process that people can engage in so they don’t mind changing. There are a variety of different approaches that are helpful and allow you to navigate the minefield of organizational movement.
Here are two you might find helpful:
There are many of these structures you can use, but it’s important to note that ultimately change management is about motivating people. It is a psychological exercise and if you aren’t an organization that is very people-focused, you will struggle with change management. You will either have to climb Mount Everest in a bathing suit carrying a beach ball or you will have to fire everyone and hire a new (workforce) mindset. And that will be difficult because you are still doing the hiring and you’ll probably create the exact same environment all over again.
The most important thing about change management comes in knowing you are the one who has to do the changing first – totally and completely. If you can’t make the shift in your head, it will be impossible to make it in others’ heads. In addition to that, change management is a people thing. It’s not a process, it’s not a consultant, it’s not a proprietary tool given to you by a fancy firm. Its primary focus is people and their behaviors. So the second thing you need to do after changing yourself is to talk to your people. You need to understand the culture of your organization – from your employees’ perspective.
Start by asking your employees what they think about working at your organization. And be ready for all the answers. Take them seriously and take them as directives for your future. Ask questions about how employees feel about communication; about challenging authority; about how mistakes are handled; about how teams are formed; about how well they believe they are heard by your leadership. If the answers to the questions are very positive, drive for areas where people think things can be improved. There are always opportunities.
It’s impossible to change something if you don’t really know what you’re changing. And you can’t know until you ask. Even the most connected people in leadership learn something new when they ask people to give them honest feedback. Just the act of being curious about what your employees think is a huge step in the right direction. Once you understand where your organization is, you can then lay over the top of that what your goal is, and the path to get there is a great deal clearer. You have also taken the first step in engaging your employees because their responses should have a direct effect on what, how, and where you start with your change initiatives.
Now ask yourself again, after you have looked at what, how, and where you will start with change, am I ready to change? What will I do differently? How will I lead differently? How will I continually communicate? Who will be a part of the team of people that will help me? Are they ready to change? Take a look at the following video with the accompanying article to give you an insight into where organizations stumble when they want to change. And what they need to do to make a shift successful.
Change management is a step by step movement to a different culture. And in order to do that, you have to choose what are the most important things to happen first. If the Godzilla Effect causes you to struggle with prioritizing, engage your teams. Ask them. Use your judgment as the leader to make the final decision, but get input and ask them to get involved in how you make your shift. The simple act of prioritizing helps you to say ‘no’ as much as it helps you say ‘yes’.
Another question that leadership often thinks about is, “do you talk to your team about the Godzilla Effect?” Or more commonly put, “Is it right to ‘scare’ everyone into movement?” It depends on your culture. If you have a ‘rally the troops to meet a challenge’ kind of workplace, ‘scaring’ everyone might not be a bad plan. If you have a timid culture, that might not be the best approach. Irrespective of what your culture is, you should probably also accept that there will be attrition. In some cases, a lot. In other cases, perhaps just a few people. This is frustrating. It’s also incredibly normal. You might lose someone who you think is critical to your new direction. Don’t worry. That person wasn’t…critical to your new direction that is… that’s why they left. View it as an opportunity to find someone who is fresh to the change and will embrace where you are going.
Very often, the need for change management comes about because you’ve chosen a new strategic direction and it has little familiarity with the direction you have been taking with your current team. So you are in the middle of trying to execute a strategic business plan and you need everyone to change (overnight) so you can accomplish your goals.
Yeah, not really.
Getting the right people on your side is critical. Remember that ‘people thing’ about change management? It still applies in chasing your strategic business plan. Without the right talent on board, ready to motivate, encourage, and lead, you will struggle to get your process off the ground. Here is where the Yoda Quotient makes its reappearance. “Do or do not. There is no try.” When your team is critical to achieving your strategic goals, having everyone on board will make the difference between success and just trying. This doesn’t mean you don’t want people who can think differently. You still need devil’s advocates and naysayers to ensure you aren’t engaged in uni-think. You just need to make sure after all challengers have been heard and considered, that whatever direction the consensus decides is the one they will support – wholeheartedly.
Make sure you have clear, measurable goals so you know when you achieve them and the organization understands how they play a part in those goals. Communicate, involve, give feedback, involve, change, communicate, change, involve, give feedback, change…. That process is called full-fledged ADAPTATION!
You get the picture.
May the force be with you.