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.

 

Why we need to ban NDAs

Sometimes I think our profession is much like the British weather, we have an obsession in talking about its shortcomings, but yet nothing can be done to change it. My frustration is compounded in the rare moments where we genuinely have an opportunity to act for the betterment of the world of work, but instead choose to hide behind indecision and equivocation. There is no clearer example of this than the ongoing debate on the use of NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) in settlement agreements.

The broad reaction from the legal and HR professions (and their governing bodies) is weak and depressingly similar, “it depends on how they’re used”. Ultimately suggesting that the clauses themselves aren’t bad, it’s just the bad people (their members) who use them. This is akin to asking the National Rifle Association to opine on gun control. Because every NDA included in a settlement agreement will have had a lawyer draft it and another read it on behalf of the employee. 

Let’s just pause there for a second and let this sink in. In every case where a settlement agreement has been used with an NDA to silence a victim of sexual harassment, racial discrimination or bullying, the overwhelming likelihood is that a legal professional has not only acted for the perpetrator, but for the victim as well.  Let’s not let ourselves off the hook here either, the `HR profession is in many, if not most, cases entirely complicit too – they just don’t exist in all organisations. So is it a surprise that we argue for their continued usage?

In the same way that gun control is the only sensible way to ensure that people are protected  from the harm that these weapons can cause, the only way to ensure that NDAs are not incorrectly applied is to ban their use in settlement agreements. When I make this point the familiar riposte is to talk about business interests and confidentiality and make a bold statement that these are in the interests of the employee. This is intentional obfuscation, so let’s take some time to put these myths to bed. 

You can have a confidentiality clause without containing an NDA, in fact the Law Society describes it as follows, “Confidentiality clauses, which may include terms commonly referred to as non-disclosure agreements, within settlement agreements are used to stop commercial information from being shared inappropriately and to avoid reputational damage.” It is this last point that is central to their use, where clauses are inserted to prevent the employee from talking about the incident that led to the use of the agreement or indeed to disclose the existence of the agreement itself. No-one is talking about banning confidentiality clauses that reaffirm those that already exist in a contract of employment, just the use of NDAs to silence.

Now the idea that this is in some way in the interest of the employee. I’ve asked on numerous occasions for someone to give me an example where this is solely the case, where there is no interest in reciprocity from the organisation. Unsurprisingly, I’m still waiting to hear of one.  And of course the logic of this assertion is flawed in itself, because if non-disclosure was generally in the interest the employee, then they wouldn’t be looking to disclose it in the first place. The fact is that this argument is generally uses as a sinister arm twist, “it will be in your best interest if we say nothing about this matter…so you better not either…”.

NDAs are about power, they are about control, they are clauses that are used to silence those that are generally victims of organisations that have gone wrong. There may be the very odd case where they could legitimately be argued for, but their punitive use far outweighs any benefit. Every case of sexual harassment, discrimination, bullying, intimidation and unfair treatment that leads to the use of such a clause is a terrible indictment on the HR profession and our colleagues in the legal profession too. There is only one safe answer and that is an outright ban. Until that comes about, until our professional bodies find their backbones, I ask you to take the lead and to change your practice now.

You’ve got to buy a ticket

When we want things to change, we need to act. There is no circumstance where this applies more than in the culture of the teams and organisations that we work in.

Ultimately culture is a reflection of all of our actions, all of our behaviours and all of our shared beliefs and opinions. It is a reflection of us. Which means if we’re not happy with how things are, we need to start by asking what we can change.

Before you start to tell me that individuals can’t change the organisation, of course to some extent that is true. But we can each change the way that we show up, the way that we are and the way that we interact with others. We can’t change the whole, but we can change our impact.

There is no point in complaining about how things are, unless you’re willing to help make a change. There is no point in wanting things to be different, unless you’re willing to make that so.

It reminds me of a joke that I head a number of years ago in an entirely different context:

A little down on his luck, Joe decides to ask God for help. He begins to pray…

“God, please help me. These last few years have been tricky for me and it’s about time I had a bit luck. I’ve never asked you for much, but I need my life to change. So God, please let me win the lottery.”

Lottery night comes and somebody else wins it.

Joe again prays…

“God, I’m going to ask you again. I need my luck to change. Please let me win the lottery!”

Lottery night comes and Joe still has no luck.

Once again, he prays…

“My God, why have you forsaken me??  I don’t often ask you for help and I have always been a good servant to you. PLEASE just let me win the lottery this one time so I can get my life back in order.”

Suddenly there is a blinding flash of light as the heavens open and Joe is confronted by the voice of God Himself: “Joe, meet me halfway on this. Buy a ticket.”

*********************

 

HR: A 10 point agenda for change

If you ever wanted proof of how dismally most people view the HR profession, then you need go no further than this piece from the Guardian online on Friday. What started as a question about working hours, turned in to a free for all regarding the standing of the HR profession. And by far the majority of comments were negative. Here are just some examples,

“…in my company, it’s often the victims of HR that have to stay late to fill in even more paper work, to generate the paperwork that HR needs to dispel the rumor that they have nothing to do all day but generate pointless paper work.”

“Everyone else in your building hates HR for the ludicrous and pointless self-assessments we’re put through each year.

“HR is the weak link in every company; an industry whose only purpose is to justify its own pointless existence. 

Get out while you still can, or face an entire career of being sniggered at behind your back by your co-workers.”

“We all hate our HR department, they send out pointless memos about equality and diversity, and reminders to complete your appraisal/quarterly review etc, just so it looks like their jobs are essential.”

“People in HR departments exist to preserve their pointless jobs by creating work for others to do !
Does anyone know anything worthwhile that HR has done ?”

“my experiences with Human Resources were neither humane nor resourceable. [sic]”

I could go on, but you get the gist. Everybody hates HR.

Now I could put up a stream of arguments that would point out the value of HR, indeed I and a few others did tentatively point this out, but in reality that is an utter waste of time and completely misses the point. It doesn’t matter what WE think, it matters what THEY think and if we are serious about our profession, then we need to take that in to account.

I admit that, in common with a number of other functions, we are in a situation where people don’t understand the value until they really need it and we are often associated with “bad things” that happen in companies. But that is the fact of the matter, we can’t get away from that. We cannot deny reality, we need to tackle it face on.

  1. We need to be resourceful in bringing the right mindset into the profession. We are not a policing function, we are not an administrative function, we are here to provide solutions and facilitate not provide problems and barriers. This mindset is more important that technical skills. If people don’t have it then don’t hire them.
  2. We need to de-clutter our processes and procedures. Enough of the forms, the polices, the bureaucracy. 90% of it isn’t needed and 100% of it is hated, resented and not understood by employees and managers alike.
  3. We need to stop saying “no”. Our language, our communication to the business needs to be positive, not negative. We need to be owners of good news. Deal with problems individually, not by memo. Stop sending out dumb emails, if it isn’t positive, don’t send it.
  4. We need to accept that you don’t get influence through control, you get influence through other people’s positive experience of you. Get influence through people wanting you involved not by telling them you have to be.
  5. We need to cut down the initiatives. Every time we look at something we should clearly be able to articulate why we are doing it and why our organization (not our HR department) wants it. If we can’t, we shouldn’t be doing it.
  6. We need to listen to our employees and our managers. We need to stop seeing them as being “the problem” and start seeing them as being the people that we are here to help. They are the reason we have jobs, so stop moaning about them and start listening.
  7. We need to stop focusing on alleged best practice and start focusing on “best fit” solutions. If our organizations only need a simple solution, then just give it to them. This isn’t about winning prizes at the CIPD awards, or standing up at conferences, this is about making your organization better.
  8. We need to be more human. We need to get out and talk, interact, spend time with people, we need to be empathetic and understanding, we need to feel. Sitting in the HR department bitching is not going to change anything.
  9. We need to stop focusing on cost and start focusing on value. These two things are not the same. Even if cost reduction is on the agenda, look at the value you can get from the budget, the resources. Cheaper and faster do not equate to better.
  10. We need to tell people who do not believe in this agenda that they have no place in the profession. They should find another career voluntarily or we should help them to find one involuntarily. There isn’t a choice to stay the same, there is only the choice to change.

Every single one of us has a responsibility for raising standards and calling others to account when they do not meet high enough standards. Those of us in leadership positions need to set the example. We need to be all over and we need to start now.

This is a repost of the original, which was posted in January 2013. I’m not sure how much has changed in the six years since I wrote it.