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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Managing Change vs. Leading Change

Some days ago, I attended a conference and realized Lewin’s change model is still in use. The simplicity of the model is useful to illustrate the process, but in my perspective, it could be misleading.  If we haven’t experienced a deep transformation process, we can think the change process is linear and looks like this:

Lewin change model

It consists in providing the conditions for people to see what needs to be changed and why, what resources do they have and which ones they need.  Then, during the change process it refers to planning and adopting new practices, and modifying behavior to adapt to change. Finally, coming back to the normal conditions, using and incorporating change.

In a strict sense and in retrospective, an organizational change may look like that. However, transforming human behavior is not so easy and for sure it’s not linear.

The ADKAR model developed by Prosci, is one of the most comprehensive models businesses use nowadays.

graph_adkar1

Regardless of the type of change your organization is going through, understanding the stages of change will reduce confusion, but having more clarity on what are the pitfalls and what is needed to move from one stage to another is relevant.  However, as John Kotter says,  it is important to remember that managing change is not the same as leading change. “Management” implies a system or process that can and should be constantly monitored, whereas “Leadership” suggests assembling and inspiring a group of people who will design and own a self sustaining program.

A lot of companies talk about Change managers (or even champions), when what they actually need are Change leaders that can instill the urgency to change and motivate the entire organization to go through an unpredictable, difficult and long process, that will end up changing the culture of the company. We need to remember that although the goal may be the same, the process is quite different and therefore, requires a different set of skills.

Change Management competencies

“The Opposite of Resistance is Assistance”. Steven Fieldman

The first time I heard about Change Management at work, it was from one  of my colleagues saying that organizational change processes are similar to upgrading a plane while it’s still flying. Unfortunately, we cannot stop all that we’re doing, change and then resume our activities.

Frequently, organizations engage in a change process without any help or only with the support of a Project Manager, forgetting that when there are people involved, additional support needs to be provided. Although Project Managers could be aware of the resistance from the people involved, their skills are not necessarily the right ones to create the engagement needed to facilitate and sustain the change.

Change Management specialists have a different skill set than PMs, as CMs will evaluate organization readiness and work through the resistance to change, while PMs are more concerned about resources and following the plan, in order to deliver on time and budget.

From my experience,  these are the most important competencies that are needed:

Behavioral Competencies

  • Analysis, decision making, strategically savvy
  • Persuasion and influencing
  • Emotional intelligence to deal with pressure, setbacks, etc, (including self-awareness and and a genuine interest for understanding other people’s behavior)
  • Systems Thinking
  • Negotiation/persuasion
  • Communication
  • Patience and Optimism
  • Flexibility

Functional Competencies

  • Keen business sense
  • Project Management
  • Organizational change
  • Process facilitation
  • Group Dynamics

 

What do you think? Please, share it in the comments section.

Charlie and Edie Seashore and the Use of Self

seashoreIn 2009 I had the opportunity to attend Edgar Schein’s seminar at Cape Cod Institute. Charlie and Edie Seashore were also giving a seminar on the Intentional Use of Self, if I’m not mistaken. I couldn’t attend to their seminar, but I made a mental note to do it as soon as I could, as I heard great things about them and learn about their contribution to the OD/HSI field. This year, Charlie passed away and I look forward to attending this summer to the seminar that Edie and Robert Marshak would give. However, I just learned that this Saturday, Edie passed away, too, which is very sad news for all OD practitioners, who learned with them about the use of Self as an instrument for change,  the importance of feedback and reframing in our own change processes, and so on.

Using our Self to facilitate change is not an easy process. It implies being aware of our own internal processes, background, ideas, feelings, emotions, and a lot of other factors that may be conscious or unconscious. It also changes ourselves, and that’s not an easy task to endure.  Using our Self requires also an understanding of the systems paradigm, and embracing emergence; something that not everyone is at ease with, given the need for highly structured plans and prediction in the current markets.

There are different models used to understand one’s Self as an instrument for organizational diagnosis. They help us to triangulate the data and understand ourselves and the world we live in. Using one’s Self requires a lot of training, awareness, and reflection.  We need to uncover ourselves, in the same way we peel an onion, understanding that every layer is the onion itself, but the onion is more than a layer.

Seashore uses a model a little bit more complex, that includes:

  • Choices
  • Unconscious and out of awareness factors
  • Systems thinking and the issue of undesirable outcomes
  • Working with colleagues
  • Long term self development
  • Support systems
  • Frameworks and theories
  •  Projection and transference
  •  Reflexive processing
  • Appreciation of Diversity

with the purpose of understanding and using one’s Self to help individuals, groups and organizations  achieve their own potential and become sustainable and strong. And as Charlie Seashore said: “It is not the simplest way to go about our business, but it may be one of the most intriguing, rewarding and powerful of the tools available to us”.