Learning from other’s change management failures
I have been watching an organization that I had a past role with, try to undertake change management. I am noticing the abysmal failure, the division, and the lack of inclusiveness the process is yielding. On the one hand, I don’t want to be publishing a blog with a hindsight “I told you so” kind of a tone. Yet, the reality is we do learn from observing failure. We must learn from both our own failures and those of others.
When change management does not include consultation
It was in 2017 that I was at the Board of Directors’ retreat for this organization. The Board Chair and key leaders had made up their mind about a significant change they wanted to make to the structure of the organization. I recall offering my best advice along the lines of opening the dialogue with internal stakeholders on this immediately. Often senior leaders do have to make key decisions about future strategic direction. They may have to make the decisions without being able to consult all constituents. Notwithstanding, there are always opportunities to bring people into the conversation from the start. Collaborating by laying out the strategic direction and requesting input and collective best thinking on the process. This leadership group decided it would have nothing to do with consultation, until they had it figured out.
The outcome was predictable in that moment. As expected, the change management process has been and continues to be a failure. People were finally invited into the dialogue once the senior team had its mind made up. The result was, of course, significant backlash and now major division. Two years later, the leadership team has no idea what to do next. They are caught up in mass confusion throughout the organization. The overall performance of the organization is low and they are struggling to even find people that want to participate in leading.
How to make change management bearable
Change management is not a simple thing. However, it gets much simpler when we don’t try to do it alone. I often hear people reflect on how there are constant changes in organizations. That is just the reality of business these days. Change is constant, change is necessary, and change should be our friend. We can be much more effective with change when it is not a fait accompli, but is rather an invitation to create. There is value in shifting our frame and our language on change; from change to creation. A powerful thing happens in organizations when the invitation is always present and alive from senior leaders. An invitation for all individuals to continually create a better future for the entity.
Senior leaders that think they have it figured out and can figure it out alone are not effective change management agents. On the other hand, senior leaders should well identify and articulate the strategic issues and dilemmas for stakeholders. Next, the leader should implement a process, including time and space, for stakeholders to create the new future direction. Its these leaders that get more desirable outcomes with organizational change.
Cameron’s Call to Action
- Identify and develop a plan to carefully articulate to your team the key strategic issues and dilemmas currently facing the organization.
- Next, provide your best thinking regarding how you envision the future state, and the kinds of possible responses to address, solve, get out in front of the strategic issue.
- Invite everyone to create. This is the time to let the creative juices flow. Create a process (there are many tools, formats etc to do this) that allows people to bring their best creative ideas and thinking to the discussion.
- Watch the way in which your people with get excited about change and will align with the need for change and help you get there.
Cameron is an Executive Coach and Consultant specializing in business growth and creating psychologically healthy workplaces.