*This is an update of my first LinkedIn article from 2015. It says a lot about my motivations to set up 8Connect, albeit with a gap of three years!
After many years in Change Management, I had reached the stage where I felt completely jaded with it all. As a psychologist, I got into change because I was interested in helping people. Instead, I became disillusioned at a “Change” industry that was just another branch of management, managing “stuff” with very little concern for people.
I was also disillusioned at how strikingly similar every “transformation” programme was. Whether (relatively) successful or not, all of the large programmes that I’ve been exposed to have tended to be plagued with the same difficulties that made it extremely difficult, in a tightly defined role of Change Manager, to feel that I was really adding value. Sure, I did a good job most of the time and I helped things along, but when you’re in the weeds, focused on checklists of actions and not really helping to remove barriers to change; dealing with the fallout from project delivery issues rather than challenging leaders to better prepare their people.
Conclusion 1: Change Management is too often more focused on management than change (which is about people).
Some of these observations, you might suggest, reflect personal capability. “Rise above it”, you could (perhaps) rightly suggest. “Influence”. I’d agree with you, but for the fact that I’ve described not only my situation but my observation of Change Managers around me. Others in Change Management might say that they don’t relate to what I’ve described, that they are having the kind of influence that they feel they should, and if you’re reading this and that’s you I applaud you.
Conclusion 2: “Transformation Programmes” are part of the problem.
I also came to the conclusion that “Transformation Programmes” are the problem. They are cumbersome, expensive, unwelcome, disruptive and, by the time the intended changes are delivered (usually the technical aspects are, while a lack of behavioural change hampers the realisation of benefits) the world has already moved on. We are living in a fluid, increasingly complex world and major programmes are rigid “wars of attrition” that leave the organisation fatigued and unready to change again for quite some time.
Proposition 1: Organisations need to shift towards changing little and often (become agile).
Organisations, simply, need to change little and often (or always). I’ve seen this described as being an agile organisation (which may or not involve using Agile methods). They – or their people (not just designated individuals) – need to adapt, keeping one eye of current practices and another on the external environment (current and future); being ready to challenge themselves and take responsibility for seeing things through. It’s a simple idea, not an easy one. It’s continuous improvement (with a small “c” and “i”) but it needn’t be limited to incremental change. Radical ideas and creative or innovative solutions need to surface.
Proposition 2: Becoming more agile requires a cultural change.
The challenge is “cultural”, but the idea that we change through big, transformational programmes is something that we’ve also conditioned into our organisations. Employees have learned to get through one change programme and hunker down until the next one is foisted upon them. We’ve also made it difficult for to people pro-actively adapt – by becoming leaner, more efficient and target-driven people’s ability to engage with the possibility of change, and to find creative solutions to problems, has been diminished.
Proposition 3: Don’t try to manage this as a “transformation”!
Go step-by-step. Focus on mindsets, behaviours, processes and systems. But go step-by-step. Don’t try to “boil the ocean”.
I’m not saying that there should never again be programmes of scale and that change should not be co-ordinated. The first time implementing cross-functional systems or processes, for example, has to be a large endeavour. Any change that crosses functional barriers also needs co-ordination. We should, however, aim to be less reliant on ‘transformation’ to drive change in our organisations – and the more we adapt (or continuously improve) the less we will be.
*Three years on, I’m seeing and hearing much more agility and change-able cultures which is heartening. But at the same time, I still hear about large organisations that are stuck in this mindset – and others that are only just beginning to embrace it. On reflection, I guess that there’s maybe a step in maturity that’s required, for long-established businesses to be effective at co-ordinated transformation, before they have any chance of them moving on to being truly agile and achieve continuous change. Startups, on the other hand, can set the tone from day one, and that’s a massive competitive advantage.