Saturday 14:49, Rocket Barber Shop, Hackney Road, London
Earlier this week, on Tuesday to be precise, I handed in my first tutor-marked assignment. It was a 2,500-word essay on the topic of power and politics and organisational change. Our objective was to take an existing critique of change management and apply it to a change management theory of our choice and to discuss its weaknesses and assumptions. We were also asked to include a change event from our own professional experience to further uncover the limitations of change management.
In the end, I’m happy with the work I submitted. It took way way longer than I thought, about 60 hours of reading, writing, editing and proofing, and hopefully it meets all the criteria for a good mark – after all, this is how I’m being measured. And if I don’t, well I’ve learnt an awful lot about organisational change management and the far-reaching effects it is likely.
So what are the key takeaways and what advice would I give to my future self about to embark on a change event?
- Change is generally much more complex than you think. If your strategy fails, you’re unlikely to get a second chance. And if you do, well you’re pretty likely to fail again.
- Not only is change multi-factorial and multi-dimensional, it’s also dynamic and inter-dependent. This makes change extremely difficult to model, let alone control. An analogy would be to attempt making origami whilst riding a unicycle on a high wire during a 9.2 magnitude earthquake. Blindfolded. I think you get the picture.
- Whatever change method you roll out you’re likely to create ripple effects with wide social consequences. Issues surrounding power and politics are integral to how organisations are run and change management is no exception. If you are unable to communicate honestly and with a sense of trust, you’re unlikely to align your strategic objectives with those of the individuals you employ. And even if you do, if you fail to empower those around you to believe what you do, you’re destined for complex issues involving resistance, motivation and non-compliance.
- Don’t forget that whatever you say or do your actions will be seen through someone else’s lens. Your reality is someone else perspective and no matter how objective you try to be, remember that it is rare to go through a change event with only winners.
- Ask yourself if change really is necessary. Ask yourself if it really is as good as you think and whether it is desirable by everyone it affects. Before allowing the ripple effects to turn into a tsunami, be sure that you have considered the ‘no change’ alternative.
- If you’ve come to the conclusion that change management is necessary, call in the experts. You’re likely to lose less money and waste less time by working with people whose bread and butter is change. After all, if your boiler breaks down, you wouldn’t really try to fix it yourself, would you?
Ever since the discipline of change management emerged in the early 1980s the failure rate of change has remained at 60-70%. To me, this is a strong indication that something is very very wrong with how change is managed at organisations.