Sam and I have been writing a chapter for a book with a systems thinking perspective on organisational change, and we are tackling the notion and practice of emergent change. So, I’m thinking a lot about change and thought I would share a few ideas with you that may provoke your thinking as you endeavour to guide yourself, your team, and your organisations through change. I’ve posed these as myths we have been taught. Myths that need to be busted if we are to become more effective at leading change.
Myth no. 1: Change is an object that can be managed
Have you noticed how we talk about change in organisations? It’s not uncommon to hear it described as something that has to be planned, scheduled and delivered – “rolled out”. But have you ever physically touched a change? While we may argue to the contrary as we run our hands across newly-discovered wrinkles on our faces and stare in shock and disbelief at the presence of another grey hair on our head, change isn’t a physical object. Change is a name we give to a process where we or some system, moves from one state to another. If that’s the case, then maybe we can manage the process, but not the outcome. We don’t deliver a change.
So we should replace the myth with the idea that change emerges from a process that we might manage carefully and thoughtfully. But we don’t know what will emerge from that process and we certainly can’t manage it.
Myth no. 2: “One size fits all” change
There is also an expectation that a change process will be relevant to everyone in the organisation, or team, at the same time. I think this myth comes from an underlying belief that organisations are a type of machine where all the cogs in the machine are impersonally going about doing the work they are told. There is nothing individual about the cogs.
You don’t have to think for long to bust this myth of one change process fitting everyone. Of course, each person thinks about things differently. Of course, that is a reflection of their past experiences. Of course, they will take different amounts of time to process the need for change, make sense of it and make changes accordingly.
Myth no. 3: Everyone resists change – they don’t like it!
This particular myth is one that I am truly sick of! It’s true that even when you desire to change it’s not easy, but we humans are changing all the time! People resist being changed. Just like you resist being changed by someone else.
It can be difficult to change for reasons of values systems, neuroscience and physiology – but humans are so adaptable and changeable when they want to be. So don’t complain about your people – look in the mirror. What is it about your change process that is not engaging your people?
Myth no. 4: People change through being told
Sometimes – but not that often! You know the feeling “If I’ve told them once, I’ve told them a hundred times!” If that is the case for you, then telling is not working and you are dealing with the type of change that requires an asking approach.
People are more likely to change when they are provided with new information and a conversation, including questions, that helps them make sense of this new information within the context of what seems most important and relevant to them and their jobs. It’s not uncommon in these discussions for what is most important to also be changeable over time … and that is an important conversation too.
Myth no. 5: Everyone else needs to change (I’m OK).
It’s common in my line of work to hear that someone else needs to change, but by implication – not the person I am speaking with. This is a kind of quaint and very human perspective that is just not true.
This myth needs to be replaced with the truth that when dealing with complex issues, gaining everyone’s perspective is important. It’s important to gain all these different perspectives, not for fluffy feel-good reasons, but for pragmatic reasons so that the most effective way forward emerges. And that means that everyone is likely to have to adapt their perspective as he or she listens to those of others. Change for all!
If you’re interested in making some non-mythical changes within your own organistion, please contact me, and we can chat about it over coffee. My shout!
Or you may be interested in one of our Principles for Change cards – this one reminds us of the Principles for Mobilising People for Change.