Making Change Work

Recently, I have been quite close to a few major change initiatives and I've noticed how certain basic principles associated with making change work are routinely overlooked.

People support what they help to create - Here's a basic question for the leaders of change: Have you consulted the people who will be most impacted by the change? Leadership experts like Meg Wheatley and others have taught us that "people support what they help to create." A simple and powerful truth about human nature. If you want the buy in of people in your organization, you must treat them with respect by inviting them to discuss the change. Listen to their concerns, and to their ideas. There's a great quote from Warren Bennis on this: "Good leaders make people feel that they're at the very heart of things."

Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater - How often have you seen this scenario? A CEO gets fed up with something in his organization that he perceives as dysfunctional and says "Shut it down." No discussion, no debate, and certainly no consultation with the people working in the system. The reaction of the people? Surprise, dismay, anger, hurt. When such organizational bathwater is tossed out, the baby often goes out the window too. Is it any wonder people resist change? Ask yourself, What gets lost?

Be careful to preserve what's working now - The "baby" we were just referring to represents what is now working well, even in a process or system that needs major change. There is always something that is working well now. This is where change agents would do well to study Appreciative Inquiry and use its methods to find out the current strengths of the as is process. If change makers are not careful to preserve what's working now, the intended improvements may actually cause setbacks.

Every solution generates new problems - Every well-intentioned change project will attempt to identify and address what isn't working and bring about improvements. Change is good. But make no mistake: it will also generate new problems. This is an area for increased mindfulness on the part of change agents. As a smart CEO (that I worked for years ago) used to say: "Keep your eyes open."

Convert problems into opportunities - Keep your eyes open, he continued, because inside every problem lies an opportunity. All it takes is a shift in thinking. A shift from getting bogged down in negativity. To getting energized about finding new ways to delight customers.

Start digging the well before you're thirsty - Making change work requires thoughtful planning well in advance of the cutover from the old to the new. Ideally this planning is open and inclusive.

Practitioners in the field of organizational change management often discuss the reasons for the high rate of failure of large scale change projects. Seems to me that more mindfulness about principles like the ones above would go a long way to making change work.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Sunday May 6, 2012


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