Change Management: Stability is Just an Illusion
There is an immense amount of information about change and change management in books, case studies, newsletters, magazine articles, and blogs, etc. There is not much new to be said about the topic, but in this blog I would like to share some of my thoughts and reflections. When I think about change, I think about life and the constant unfolding of our existence. Nothing stays steady, everything morphs.
As humans, we spend our lives structuring our time, giving meaning to our experiences, staying viable by fighting entropy, and maintaining our relevance. In some ways, organizations experience the same process. They are organisms or systems that exist for a reason and that gives them meaning. An organization has processes, procedures, plans, programs, timelines, and meetings that provide structure to the life of the organization. There is a core “input-throughput-output” process that makes an organization viable as well as processes that address problems that may be threatening to the organization. Organizations also have processes that keep them relevant in the eyes of their customers and society at large. So, what is it about the concept of CHANGE that, in most cases, provokes a strong reaction, often with negative implications, in most people within organizations?
As previously mentioned, we are constantly changing—so from a rational perspective we should have the natural resilience to cope with it. As an observer and student of change at the macro and micro level, and as I reflect upon world events or occurrences on an individual or organizational level, it is obvious that the unknown and the uncertainty of any outcome creates fear and resistance to unexpected change. Anything that disrupts the assumed predictable and steady journey creates fear and anxiety. We structure our lives under the assumption that things will stay more or less the same. We become our own conservative futurists. Every time we open our calendar and schedule a meeting for a future date, we assume that things will be the same. When there is an occurrence that disrupts the predictable, it may immediately trigger fear, discomfort, and resistance. Every time we feel a loss of control over our destiny, we get scared and become anxious, and we start dwelling on the most catastrophic outcomes.
For any organization’s leaders, one of the challenging endeavors is managing change. The process to bring about change is crucial and is often not very well thought out. When thinking about Change Management, I always remind myself that success of change implementation lies not only in the hands of the people who are responsible for the implementation but also with the constituency that is being affected by the change—regardless of how good the change is, how big or small the organization is, or how noble the cause or intentions are behind the change.
In order to assess the potential success of or resistance to the change, I would pose the following “simple” questions to the leaders of an organization who are accountable for the change implementation. What is the benefit to the organization to embark upon this change? Who recommended or sponsored the change? Who is being affected by the change and how involved and informed are they of the change? What are the stakes for those people involved in the change, both as implementers and recipients? Are they involved in assessing the impact that the change may have on them? Is the change triggered by a problem that the organization has been facing or is facing today or is it a change that is based upon a visionary proposition for future success?
I raise these questions based upon my change paradigm. I assume that the more people know about and participate in the change, the less scared or anxious they will feel. They will also feel more empowered and in control of their destiny. Based upon the answers, I can assess the level of uncertainty, fear, and anxiety or how much loss of control will be experienced by those affected, and with this assessment, I can provide the framework to develop an effective Change Management process.
As a Change Management consultant, I have to remind myself how uncomfortable I feel when someone else controls my destiny even when I know that controlling destiny is just an illusion.