challenges of change (and being realistic)
“People can’t live with change if there’s not a changeless core inside them.”
Stephen R. Covey
“The challenges of change are always hard. It is important that we begin to unpack those challenges that confront this nation and realize that we each have a role that requires us to change and become more responsible for shaping our own future.”
“Life itself consists of phases in which the organism falls out of step with the march of surrounding things and then recovers unison with it—either through effort or by some happy chance.
And, in a growing life, the recovery is never mere return to a prior state, for it is enriched by the state of disparity and resistance through which it has successfully passed.”
Anyone who reads what I wrote knows I love change.
This doesn’t mean I like change for change sake.
Nor does this mean I constantly want 100% change all the time
Nor do I even want 100% change in any given moment.
Nor do I believe changing everything at once is a good idea.
Anyone considering leading change has to get a grip on a couple of truths:
Too much change, at the leadership level, can be overwhelming.
Too much change, at the employee/citizen/population level, can be overwhelming.
I do not care how good you are … well … overwhelmed is overwhelmed and overwhelmed is fraught with peril. Finishing what you start is a combination of an obstacle course and maze and exploration.
And maybe this is most likely where I struggle with some “change agents”. Because change is so frickin’ complex it can be … well … overwhelming. Therefore the road most often transactional — they view change transactionally.
Sorry to say … you cannot do this and be successful. Getting an organization to do things is like managing a menu and if you change everything 100% it is like changing the entire menu at exactly the same time <with the same staff … oh … in all 14,000 restaurants>.
If I change the whole thing the staff gets discombobulated.
On the other hand … if I keep some things the same and change some other things they usually end up happy <because some change is always appreciated>.
Frankly, someone who views change transactionally overlooks, or underestimates, the multiple dimensions of successful change which can dictate whether you “win or lose.”
Suffice it to say that while planning change can look pretty <in a conceptual way> managing change is messy.
You find yourself staring at the mid-level manager who comes through the door who softly says “I am not sure the people are happy with all this change” and you have to stop yourself at the last minute from saying “no shit, Sherlock.”
Organizational change, even if you are a great delegator, means you are being bombarded from a zillion directions with real issues, and real non-issues, none of which are actually on your own to-do list <which are the most likely the things, in the grander scheme of things, that insure the organization actually makes it through the change transition>.
Despite it all there are some really critical things that can help. The main thing is viewing what you want to change with an open mind. In my mind if you are truly thinking about implementing change, and your organization <or country> is in a good position to actually make a change, there are two basic change maneuvers:
- Plant and pivot
This is big change type stuff. And it usually comes from a specific type of situation and is best guided by a specific type of person.
The situation, the foundation from which change is implemented, is … uhm … success.
Yup. The best time to make major change is when things are going well, i.e., when there is a good foundation.
Sales have been going well. The economy is solid. Senior employee turnover has been low. Shit like that.
Good solid, even if unspectacular, ground to plant your change foot and pivot.
Anyone considering change needs to assess the foundation because if the ground is swampy or unsteady you can neither pivot well nor push into the change well.
Something to keep in mind.
The person is … well … someone with relevant experience. Yeah yeah yeah. The natural inclination in this situation is to get someone “who thinks differently” and that, for some wacky reason, means someone not in the industry or with specific relevant experience. That is nuts.
The best person for a ‘plant & pivot’ has gobs of practical industry experience and not just conceptual experience.
Yes. They need to think a little bit differently and envision ‘what could be’ thru a different lens.
This may be the person you have tucked in innovations because they know their shit but hate the status quo. This may be the person you have passed over for a number of lines of business because they were too ‘anti-establishment.’ This may be the person who knows your business inside and out but has been chomping at the bit to ‘take it to the next level’ or ‘leave the old shit behind and go in a new direction.’
It may sound counter intuitive but really big changes and pivots demand a good solid base of relevant experienced leadership. I am certainly not suggesting ‘the same old’ type of leadership but unqualified is unqualified. You cannot afford unqualified even if they are conceptually awesome.
Something to keep in mind.
- Clean the engine/engine tune up change
This is ‘doing better’ type change. You aren’t seeking a “crazy Ivan” type change but rather a “let’s pick up the pace” type change. This is all about getting into the next gear type of change.
Maybe your business <country> is chugging along positively but it feels sluggish. Maybe one aspect of your business <or country> is humming along and another seems to start wobbling at a certain speed. Shit … you could even feel like you want to take apart the engine and put it back together again with some new parts. The point is that the basic construct is in place and the success is in place and it is just time to take it to the next level.
To be honest, we business people fuck this one up the most. Why? Once we decide “change is in the air” we have a nasty habit of deciding to change too much or under assess what is good because … well … WTF … we are changing shit so let’s change.
Something to keep in mind.
The person is … well … someone who is most likely from out of your industry. In this situation you love to find someone who can steal some best practices and behaviors from elsewhere and fine tune your engine with them. To be fair … it depends on how big a change you want.
Simplistically if you just want ‘upgrade change’ you can most likely find in-industry, if not in-company, talent. But if you want bi change you will most likely find the knowledge you need outside the company and most likely outside what would be considered traditionally qualified people.
“And all the colors I am inside have not been invented yet.”
Theoretical change is exponentially different than real change.
I say that because to truly manage change nothing beats actually going through the experience of it, in some form or fashion, with the people who are actually making it happen. Yeah. Like it or not but real change is not theoretical … it is real.
Real shit needs to happen that concepts and theory just seem to far too often ignore.
You need to think about Change as a journey. You are making the journey together … bumps and all … and you are the navigator … the guide.
Leadership experience & involvement comes in a variety of forms <or let’s say aspects>. Let me offer some to leaders thinking about managing change:
- Communication. Recognize that communication happens <between the people within the change as well as amongst all levels> so decide to manage it rather than letting it manage you. Communicate openly, often and in two way discussions. Try and tailor your messages to the audience. Ah. Here comes the experience part.
Step in, experience something on the ground, communicate while in the experience and then “of the experience” to others.
Let’s say you visit the third shift and see what’s happening. Don’t interrupt their workflow but communicate. Talk about what’s happening <and who knows … you may actually learn some actionable thing>.
And then share that experience with the others.
- Organization Participation. Let’s face it. Participation increases a sense of ownership and control. People want to be part of the solution so find as many ways as you can to involve yourself and them. Once again experiencing it helps <sure better than a ‘suggestion box’>. Once again … experience matters because … well … concepts don’t work with the people who are actually doing the change/work.
- Be visible <not just with words>. Someone in some business book a long time ago called this “management by wandering.” Now. I am not big on management by wandering <in general>, however, during a change time it is a valuable technique. On several levels it is valuable. The visibility factor is obvious. But the observation factor <being observed by others … actually seen beyond a memo or an email> is probably underrated. My main reason? Plans break apart. Well. They do. And if you are in the midst of the shattered pieces it is easier to see what is salvageable and what is not <in addition you may actually observe better pieces being developed right before your eyes>.
I think I mentioned the experience because good change, which represents real change and not cosmetic change, is difficult and uncomfortable.
Suffice it to say that everyone, individually, will feel differently about change <or let’s say some typical groupings will emerge on how they think about it>. Leaders who don’t embrace that type of thinking are not only foolish but doomed for failure.
You need to realize that for some the emotion is excitement enjoying the adrenaline rush associated with change. They seek to change large and small things in their personal lives so in business it is a natural action. Their enemy is monotony. These people want to know change is a’comin’.
You need to realize that for some the emotion associated with the word change is anxiety and fear. Losing control is not something they embrace and any type of change, regardless of the size, will send them into a tizzy <and are typically vocal about it>.
these people want a plan. They enjoy knowing what will happen, when it will happen, and to what degree it will happen (e.g., what is the plan).
These people want some calming reassuring words.
It is inevitable.
But ‘forced change’, which is what big change really is, creates forced uncertainty.
It is the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle which says, “There will always be an element of uncertainty in the universe” and if you agree with that uncertainty only grows if you actually implement change.
Uncertainty can only be managed if … well … you manage it rather than react to change.
One last thing.
This is where on-the-ground experience really pays off.
You have put the plan in action and change is happening.
Uncertainty is running rampant.
Even with a tight plan … true change is typically organic where the plan is set and some seeds are planted but the actual growth and change is not systematic or even always predictable.
To manage this you need some flexibility to adapt. To do that you need to be aware of the progress and ready to ride surges in change transition. You may not be able to control and report progress as easily as with systematic change, but with this organic change, when it starts happening, it can happen quickly.
This is where having been in the organization experience … and possibly still be keeping a little close to the pulse … pays off.
You will be surprised how often being involved in some way within organizational change that you; a leader <a change agent> can affect the speed and the outcome.
On an interesting side note.
It may sound odd but true change agents seem to draw critical change pieces like a magnet <I have seen it time and time again> therefore being in the midst the change actually seems to seek you out. I imagine my point on that is if you are not there … does the change rear is head? I imagine my point is that the shit you want to be involved with will seek you out if you are there to be sought out.
Wrapping this up.
Be realistic. Changing everything is … well … stupid. Be selective. Be choiceful. And be prepared to accommodate flexibility <e.g., change> in all aspects of everything.
The plan will change.
The people will change <attitudinally as well as comings & goings sometimes>.
Maybe even some words in the forward vision may change <as long as the intent doesn’t change that is okay>.
And, yet, if you are not just sitting in some corner office keeping your fingers crossed your plans will work … all of this is more controllable, more efficient and inevitably probably a better plan in the end.
Let me end with some thoughts to keep in mind.
- No business solely dedicated to consistency will ever go down in history immortality hall of fame.
- The only businesses solely dedicated to spectacular change, total change or monumental risk moves who will enter the history immortality hall of fame are the ones who flamed out with a spectacular error.
- In this hypothetical hall of fame of mine … the only businesses in it will be those who were spectacular in consistency and made some spectacular errors <and successes> … in other words … they focused on some spectacular change on some things while focusing solid consistency on some other things < a mix of change and no change>.
I could write an entire article about how to manage a business and how to encourage isolated moments of ‘spectacular error like behavior’ within isolated areas while the rest of the organization is focused on consistent behavior and output … and how you shift it around to energize progress
Change should be spectacular.
If it isn’t then you really haven’t attempted real change <it was just cosmetic change>.
And, yeah, spectacular errors do not have to be spectacularly big events or decisions. Sometimes a tweak can make a whole world new … sometimes good … and sometimes bad.
I imagine I wrote this today because … yeah … change is in the air. And, yeah, as I noted earlier we business folk have a nasty habit of fucking up change simply because once change is in the air we start … well … just changing shit.
Change is complex. It is neither just transactional nor just strategic. Big changes require small adaptations and small changes can require big thinking.
Regardless. Change is change. And even with the best leaders and the best ‘change agents’ it is painful.
“It only takes a tweak to make the whole world new.”