Why most management change fails

Let’s face it, change doesn’t fail or succeed, it just is. When we try to do something and it doesn’t work, that doesn’t mean that change hasn’t happened, it just means the outcomes that we want haven’t been achieved. We need to understand the difference.

If I decide I want to get fit I might buy a pair of running shoes and commit to go jogging every morning before work.  After three weeks when I’m demotivated, tired and laying in bed longer than ever before, a change has occurred, just not the one that I intended. In my head I’d imagined this svelte, athletic new me who absolutely loved this new habit. In reality I developed a belief I couldn’t run, confirmed I didn’t like early mornings and chafed in places I didn’t know existed. If someone was in the future to suggest a run, I’d make my excuses and leave.

What does this mean in an organisational context?

Most of our employees and colleagues have experienced this sensation at work, however, the motivation for the original decision hasn’t been theirs. They’ve been subjected to multiple suggestions over the years that they need to go for the equivalent of a run.  And similar to the runner they start to form beliefs, “it won’t work”, “I don’t like it” or even “what’s the point?”.

Sometimes the most important “changes” that we make are choices to do nothing, rather than to do something. If we litter our organisations with initiatives, if we try to do too much that adds little value we start to create the sort of psychological fatigue that leads to beliefs that ultimately are counter productive to the changes that actually need to achieve. Through our actions we can cause the reaction that we then dub, “resistance to change”.

Nobody is resistant to change, we all make changes every single day. We shop with Amazon, send messages on our phones, we use satellite navigation systems and find love by swiping left or right. We are constantly changing and evolving. Organisations become resistant to change because of the experiences that have happened in the past, because of the belief systems that have developed and because of our inability to keep things simple and clear.

 

Shift your perspective

If nothing else, 2016 has shone a very strong and revealing light on the seemingly polarised nature of society. Our ability to see, hear, repeat and convey from a singular point of view.

“They just don’t get it”

“Why can’t they open their eyes?”

“It’s right in front of them, they’re just too…”

They. Their. Them.

In the ontological approach to coaching, there is a model that with the acronym OAR, where O is the observer, A are the actions and R the results. In life we are often taught to focus on the latter two: first we do stuff and in return we expect stuff to happen. When the results don’t go as we want, we change the actions, or repeat them twice as hard.

Seldom, do we consider the fact that the range of actions that we observe, might not be the entire and only options. In other words, we see things entirely from our perspective. Which is only human, but also limiting.screen-shot-2016-11-26-at-15-06-00

The model suggests that if we widen our perspective as observers, then the range of possible actions and potential results will also increase.

The boss who “always” seems to make the “wrong” decision?

The spouse who “never” understand what you want?

The stranger that voted the other way to you?

It seems to me that their is often no absolute “right”, no definitive answer. Just people observing, making actions and seeing results. And given the different experiences, different lifestyles, different upbringings and existences we have, the range of observations are going to be entirely different too.

We like to believe that we are enlightened and that others some how need to catch up to our perspective. But what if, instead, we chose to try and understand the point of view, ask ourselves what they might see that we don’t, what they might understand?

They. Their. Them.

Entirely natural, but unhelpful. And ultimately limiting ourselves as well.

 

Define the why of I

In our imperfect world we talk of skills, we talk of structures, we talk of competency frameworks, of behaviours and values. But for some reason, we rarely speak about beliefs. We focus on so much else, but give little, if any, time to define the why of I.

I’ve been mulling this one over for a while and my friend and co-conspirator Michael Carty recently caught the debate on this here. The thing that struck me about this brief foray, was how quickly the conversation turned away from beliefs back to behaviours.

Like so much of our work, we focus on the how and the what. But not the why.*

You see, it seems to me that if we can develop this, if we can define the belief system we work within, if we can create a shared higher purpose for our work, then we are simply more likely to taste success.

Let me give you something more concrete to consider:

–       I believe I can make the workplace a better place for everyone

–       I believe that everybody comes to work to do their best

–       I believe I have as valuable contribution to make as everyone else

–       I believe everyone is allowed to be wrong, including me

If you want to change behaviour, you need to address the beliefs that underpin it. Contrast with this. How many HR people come to work, instead with a mindset that says:

–       I believe that people don’t take me seriously enough

–       I believe that people don’t value HR

–       I believe that managers are incompetent

–       I believe that employees are always trying to get one over us

And what different behaviours would be demonstrated by someone with each of these set of beliefs?

The challenge I’ve had thrown at me is that organisations drive the belief systems. That’s rubbish. They can influence it sure, but only the individual truly controls their own beliefs. Almost every inspirational character in history has held a belief system that wasn’t dictated by their environment.

You can fiddle with the behaviours, you can focus on competencies, you can tinker with your structures. But unless you identify the belief systems that underpin them, my guess is, you’ll find yourself just a busy fool.

* (A hat tip to @GrumpyLecturer for that one).