One thing is certain…change is all around us and is always happening. The big motivator for change is to make things better in one way or another; whether this is because of a crisis, high performance, reconciliation, etc. The specific reasons will vary but the over-arching driver is the same – to make things better. The desire for us as a society at the moment to make things better is enormous – all you have to do is go to any bookshop (online or otherwise) and see the very large self-help section. We are constantly looking to others to show us how we can be better than we are now – by losing weight, controlling stress/anger…fill in the blank.
So, what is change and how do we do it? At its most basic definition, change is what happens when you move from one state to another state (Lewin 1935). It is not a perfect process and can not always be planned; and even when it is planned, it does not always go according to plan…because things change😊: circumstances, finances, people…the list is endless. The main thing to remember is the people – people are those who will actually make the change happen one way or another. The way change happens is very dependent on the behaviour of the people. When it comes to organisational change or change within an organisation, change is also dependent on the skill and ability of leaders to flex different leadership styles. For example, Sally was a Senior Leader of a Regional Office and her natural leadership style was coaching. When she first started out in the role, she wanted to change the culture of how her team contributed to and resolved business challenges – she wanted them to take more responsibility and collaborate as a team. In the beginning, her coaching leadership style was not enabling te change she wanted to make. This was due to the team not being used to working in this way – this was a very different way of working for them, and they were sceptical to the motives and approach. The previous leader used a telling/commanding approach so they were use to someone telling them what to do – not asking them what they thought they should do. So, Sally realised she needed to flex her typical style to help the team make the transition and demonstrate she genuinely wanted their thoughts and ideas. It took some time, and took longer than Sally originally anticipated for the change to happen, but it did and she soon got the impact and results she was aiming for with the culture change.
Individual behaviour has a great impact on the outputs of change and it only really happens when people are willing to make the change. Using the above example, if Sally carried on using her typical leadership style of coaching, rather than flexing her style and using different styles to help her team through the change, then she would not have achieved her results because she needed to help the people in her team to change their behaviour and want to make the change. This required confidence and re-assurance to her team that there would not be negative repercussions – the ask was genuine and wanted. Their understanding and dealing with the change was a critical element in Sally managing the change.
There are some questions that should be asked when working with/managing/dealing with a change:
In my experience, the first two questions are typically asked within an organisation, which is why stakeholder management and communication are two key elements within any change job description. But the third question – how ready is the organisation and people for the change – is one that is not asked very often and can have huge impacts on the success of the change. It may seem obvious, when reading this blog, but the number of times when a person within an organisation decides a change needs to happen and pulls together a project team to try to make it happen, without asking is the organisation ready for it – do they have all the right processes, procedures, policies, tools to enable the change?; is very rare. If they do have everything needed, how ready are the people – do they want to change? What is in it for them to change? Many times, the ‘What’s in it for me (WIFM)’ is thought of at a much later state in the change process, when actually it needs to be thought of at the very start of the change, as this will drive the vision, communication, motivation and hence the people through the change.
To embed the change there needs to be a real level of enthusiasm for the change and this needs to be coming from the people who need to do the change, not the project team. Obviously the project team need to be enthusiastic but at a degree that engenders enthusiasm in others. This can happen by working side by side with the key stakeholders by coaching, listening and helping them through the change.
At the end of the day, change is a journey…a story. The question is how do you want to travel and what story do you want to share?