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.

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.

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.

Use of Self

Just a little reminder of the Principles of Presence, according to the NTL Handbook of OD and Change.

presence

 

Be Honorable

Align personal assumptions, values, beliefs, behavior

Stand for something; take a position

Dare to be different (or similar)

State the obvious

Speak the unspeakable

 

Be an Effective Agent of Change 

Be an awareness expert

Facilitate enhanced interaction among members of the client system and with self

Teach basic behavioral skills

Model a methodology for solving problems and for dealing with life in general

Help the client complete work  and achieve closure on unfinished businessCultivate conditions for the client to experiment new behavior

 

Be Curious

Stay in a space of perpetual wonderment

Show genuine interest in the client

Be interested in self

Explore the nature of relationships between self and client and among individuals in the client system

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”.

 

OD professionals

Notes of Joseph Bentley’s Conference at UDEM (Mexico) on March 2012.
joe bentley
1. We, OD professionals, know how to facilitate collaboration instead of
conflict. Organizational issues require collaboration, as the ones that
are at the top of the organization have the power but frequently don’t
know how to solve the issues, and the ones at the bottom have the
knowledge but not the power to solve them.
2. We know it’s important to give voice to everyone, in harmony. We know
that giving voice brings commitment, commitment brings energy and energy
brings progress.
3. We believe that conflict is not always bad. It generates possibilities. Conflict facilitates possibilities and when it’s appreciated, leads to consensus.
4. We know “how things change in a planned way”. An added value of OD is planning, as it allows a semi-organized change, instead of chaotic
change.
5. We understand that it’s always about people. Technology and Finance could be strong but people are the system. They are the ones who solve
the issues.
6. We know how to teach. A lot in OD is to teach the ones with the power.  85% of the leaders hadn’t have any formal training on leadership. A coach
has a very important role in the organization.
7. We know that the most valuable learning is the one achieved through struggle. Problems open you up for learning.
8. We understand the pressure of time. We don’t know where we would be in the next 20 years, or what the conditions will be. We will be solving
problems that we don’t know yet, with people that are still studying elementary school, in situations that we cannot predict now, however, we
know that face to face conversation will be important. We will need to discuss desires, goals, achievements, failures.  We are comfortable with
ambiguity.
9. We understand that OD starts always with a problem. It’s difficult to pay attention if everything is ok. All changes start with a need.
We understand that there is conflict between the organization and its needs and the individual and his/her needs. We know how to work with
people to solve the organizational problems.
10. We understand that change requires a lot of energy: at the beginning and also through the entire process. People are usually energized at the
beginning but have less energy after the initial stage. We are able to channel the energy for the bold stroke at the beginning,
as well as the needed for the long march.
An OD professional is the one:
 who is comfortable with ambiguity
 committed with collaboration
 who honors other people
 who involves others
 who is an expert in Human Relations
who learns fast
 who is eager to receive feedback.
We can see things that the rest cannot, understand them in a different way and tell the truth in a way that engage people, instead of losing
them.