Why is difficult to sustain Change?

Several companies fail in their attempts to achieve excellence. A common reason is that the so much needed change wasn’t planned or implemented properly, and it will be rejected by the organization, as the organizations are auto-regulated (autopoiesis, Maturana dixit). Often, companies (or consultants) use a packaged change program: “Whatever worked for X company is good enough for company Y.”  Additionally, everyone wants a quick fix that makes them look better in no time, and more often than not, structural changes are messy.

We often forget that things that developed or deteriorated for years, cannot change in a couple of weeks, with just a few meetings. We need to change people behavior and often, beliefs.  As this is frequently a very important and not always  evident obstacle for change: organizational defenses.

To achieve organizational excellence, organizations should focus on learning, competence and justice, instead of morale, satisfaction and loyalty which are the frequent concerns of HR, as Chris Argyris says. Learning will allow us to detect errors and correct them; competence will help us to solve problems definitely and justice will improve the organizational health. Regardless of the change agents’ efforts, if the organization doesn’t really focus on these three issues, change won’t be sustainable.

overcome-obstacles

SEVEN ERRORS THAT PREVENT REAL CHANGE

Argyris mentions seven worldwide errors that top management considers crucial, and that have been proved through research:

1. Actions intended to increase understanding and trust often produce misunderstanding and mistrust.  Think of all these meetings that large companies have between the head office and a local office.  Head office executives think that everything has been cleared out and local office executives wonder what is the head office really planning to do.

2. Blaming others or the system for poor decisions. No one likes to take the blame, and no one wants to admit they made a mistake.

3. Organizational inertia: the tried and proven ways of doing things dominate organizational life. We have all heard the typical comment: “it has always been done this way”, or “I don’t have the authority to change it”. People tend to stick with what they did yesterday, often forgetting that if there is a new competitor, new technology or new need, what worked yesterday won’t necessarily work today.

4. Upward communications for difficult issues are often lacking. No one wants to bring the bad news,  Upward communication from employees often disappears at management level.

5. Budget games are necessary evils. Everyone in a medium or large company knows the different applications of this defense.  People tend to undersell to make sure that they can deliver, conceal unattractive programs in a more attractive one, require authority from different parties to make difficult to come to an agreement, promise future results instead of being clear on what the program does, etc.

6. People don’t behave reasonably, even when it’s in their best interest. A lot of irrational responses can be found here: rejection, indecision, procrastination, sabotage, lack of follow-up, etc.  People think that just by being (or appearing busy) things will change or fade away.

7. The management team is often a myth.  

 

WHAT DO WE DO, THEN?

There is no magic pill to change our behavior in organizations, but we can start by understanding these errors and finding which ones apply to our organization. We need to process our fears and work as individuals and in groups, to understand what is happening to our organization and what do we need to do to change it. We need to get rid of the “fancy footwork” that protects this defensive routines.  We need to understand and challenge the assumption that is behind each defensive behavior.

When we talk about changes that impact the entire organization, there is never too much communication or training.  But both process should be a two way path. We need to listen and learn what is really happening in the organization.  Our Change  Management efforts cannot be superficial, otherwise we risk the trust the organization may have on it.

We need to unlearn and re-learn a new model of thinking. Analysis, reflection and humble inquiry are needed if we are to get to the bottom of these defenses.

Do you have any example of question? Please, share it in the comments section.

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Stereotypes

I’m sharing this experience with the intention of inviting my two readers to reflect on the common misconceptions we have when our knowledge of a certain topic is not extensive. As a tourist, and even as a temporary worker, it’s easy to believe that we understand the culture of a country, when in reality, we’ve only dipped our toes into a different world. There is an additional layer of difficulty when we’re not really proficient in the local language.

Over the years, I’ve learned that a lot of people tend to think that Latin America is mostly beaches, colonial cities, and old buildings. Also, I’ve seen that people who are not familiar with other cultures tend to imagine that immigrants from the Third World are mostly refugees running away from poverty and crime. And while in a general sense, we all look for a safer and better place to live,  a lot of immigrants come from a not-so-impoverished place. Latin America is huge and encompasses all these contrasting realities.

monterrey

While working and studying in Canada the last 6 years, I have been exposed to  several organizations, national and international large companies, as well as small local companies, and I did not find any unknown and exceptional practice, except for fairly new trends, such as recruiting using Social Media, or designing training for mobile devices.

Furthermore, in different occasions I found outdated practices and when I designed new projects, part of my inspiration frequently came from projects I did ten years ago.  Of course, I realize that this contrast is due to organizational competencies and individual skills, and not because is a regional or national trend.

Latin America  has a lot of  industrialized cities, with large companies that have cutting-edge technology and practices. Cities that have a bigger population than Canada, for example, tend to become industrialized, have high level of competition, welcome foreign investments and are not limited to a certain type of industry. Foreign companies continue using their own global practices, perhaps adapting them to the reality of the market. I had the opportunity to see how the Japanese, North American and Mexican practices were integrated in one culture in our plant.

Professionals from industrialized third-world cities are quite similar to the first-world professionals: they tend to travel to different countries, read relevant books and other resources from global experts, and network with professionals from any number of countries.  I went to Brazil in 2010 and met people from Chile, Colombia, Argentina, and Brazil that were using the same techniques than our colleagues in the US and Europe.

Additionally, it is not unusual that these professionals learn different languages, obtain Master and PhD degrees (regardless the country where they’re offered), and are open to learn, try and adapt best practices, to meet their needs.

I would like to share a reflection that my husband had when talking with someone from NASA who said that they have the “brightest minds” from India and other countries:  NASA probably has the brightest minds that were willing to immigrate to the US.  Often, the brightest minds will stay in their own countries, unless there is no real opportunity to grow there.

As HR/OD professionals, we need to remember that talent and innovation need to be cultivated, and both are needed to generate competitive advantages. If we hire people that we are familiar with, that watched the same movies, read the same books, went to the same schools, we’re excluding our organization from the rich and abundant experience other people have.

How to cultivate a Learning Network

After you finish school your learning opportunities come from three sources: events, reading material, and people. The events that happen to you are pretty much related to the kind of job you have and activities you do. If you work in a company and follow the same routine, it will take a lot of luck to move out of your “comfort zone”, which incidentally is your “learning zone”. If you go out, your learning will follow a pattern that will limit you, as you won’t be exposed to radically new ideas.

Let me explain: if you work, as I did, as a manager of a team, your reading material and experiences will be related to your field and the few topics that interest you. But also, if you are the “expert” in a topic, you might disregard information that you don’t agree with, as we tend to consider ourselves too good to learn from them.   If you still read the newspaper, it will bring you perhaps a little bit more of information, although probably outdated (as we know that with social media we have access to more and more information every second).

I’ll give you an example: ten years ago most of my reading material was on Organizational development, personal development and literature. The chances of reading a good book on, let’s say medicine, were really slim. However, one day I went to a conference where the speaker was Juan Enriquez, and this event opened the door to a whole new world: genomics, technology, science, innovation, etc. During this conference, Enriquez talked about the BRCA test and how this small piece of information should be more important for women than any other thing related to her breasts. Angelina Jolie just brought it to the attention of the general public 10 years later.

The type of books/articles you read, will likely come from the people that you talk to or the events that influence you. So, when we hear Humberto Maturana saying that “the quality of our conversations  determines the quality of our relationships, and the quality of our relationships determines the quality of our work”  all this makes sense. Your learning and your work depends on the reflections you have on the events and conversations that you have.

In 2008 I read that my colleague Abiel Guerra had attended a seminar in Cape Cod with Edgar Schein.  Although I was closer to Cape Cod than him (he’s in Mexico), I hadn’t heard of this institute before.  Attending Schein’s seminar next year changed the way I perceived several things and introduced me to more awesome people, such as my friend Ralf Lippold in Germany. This event had a strong influence too, in the type of projects I designed during my master’s degree, such as a virtual stammtisch on Change, with people from all over the world, as Ralf introduced me to an Austrian guy who is in Brazil, and I invited a couple of friends from Colombia, Chile and Mexico that I met through a World Cafe workshop in Brazil. That broadened my network and their networks, too. changing conversations logo

So, if you want to increase the quality of the conversations you have, you need to be exposed to different experiences, different people, different ways of thinking. The best way to do it is to have a diverse network.  To increase the diversity of your network you can start changing your patterns in the following ways:

-Meet new people: don’t be shy, talk to people, ask questions. You have to show up, engage in situations where you can meet new people who can introduce you to different ways of thinking. Be open to discuss and learn about other people too, and to answer questions about your own ideas.

-Attend professional gatherings from industries that are not related to your field: this will give you the great opportunity of meeting new amazing people, and listen to great ideas.  Also, people love to talk to someone who is genuinely interested.

-Get out of your comfort zone: that’s a given. If you don’t speak the same industry language, you’ll likely ask more questions, be more interested and learn more (as you won’t judge and discard easily a topic).

-Follow people on Twitter: search for keywords that are interesting, check users’ bios and followers. Then, follow more people!

-Suscribe to TED: a lot of my inspiration for my work I got it from a TED talk, if you find other similar resources, let me know. I’ll be happy to share more information.

-Join Goodreads and search for trending books: check out what are your friends and some other people reading, you may find interesting stuff.

-Connect the dots between fields or topics: my friend Ralf is passionate about opera and ballet and loves to see how arts connect with management and productivity, for example. Find the common elements, the things that work in a field and how they can be applied into another field.  There is no limit!

So, in a nutshell, opening up to new opportunities and new people will help you generate new ideas. Some days ago, for example, I went to an HR breakfast, a Sustainability 5@7 and a Growing Community event at the Planetarium, all these events in less than 48 hours.  I cannot begin to say how I feel now, excited and recharged, and now my mind is exploding with new ideas, leads and articles to follow up with, and the best, all of this for free!

Please, share your ideas and let’s see what we can build together.