The Management of Change

Posted Jul 31, 2020 9:00:07 AM

Change has become an almost ubiquitous concept. It can be blamed for all manner of ills like an unwelcome aggressor in the workplace, and yet heralded as the solution to an organisation’s long-standing problems. For some it is the driver of solutions, and for others a harbinger of cynicism. Depending on one’s particular state of mind and environment at the time, change is viewed in a complex matrix of different ways. However it is framed though, change is inevitable. In fact, it is happening all the time, in our private lives and in the workplace, and at a significantly increased pace over the last 30 years.

Why, then, is there still mystery and fear surrounding change? The answer lies in anthropological and psychological intricacies, which are far too detailed to piece together in this article. To simplify enormously, human beings are complex and some of our basic needs have stood firm throughout evolution, even as the world around us has transformed. We need to have a sense of purpose and to feel valued, and there is a deep-seated drive within us to protect ourselves and our loved ones. The different ways in which these basic needs manifest themselves lead to individuals fitting into one of four groups, as illustrated in the table. Unless you sit in the top right quadrant, then change is not going to feel comfortable or natural.

54148 Auxesia Diagram

In organisational terms, successful change management is much more difficult if the substantial majority sit outside of the top right quadrant. Indeed, it is also highly likely to fail.

There are several well-known change management models; 7S, Kotter and Lewin, to name a few of the more notable theories. A similar theme runs through each of these models, describing in different ways the process an organisation should take to effect change. No doubt these and other models have been implemented successfully on many occasions, however it is also certain that they will have spectacularly failed too. Directors and senior managers will have spent hours agonising over possible reasons for failure. Was the strategy wrong all along? Are the team just not good enough? Is the industry not ready for our innovative thinking?  Were we unlucky and affected by external factors? Shall we try again and hope for the best?

Failure is normally not the fault of the model per se. These procedural models effectively instruct ‘management’, using a reliable path to implement change but the trouble with any of these models is that if they are used in isolation they’re unlikely to really make a difference. These models all “do change to people”; which means that they tell people what to do but, if you look back to the quadrants, it is obvious that people sitting outside of the top right are not going to react well to simply being told. They need to trust and believe, and they require understanding and inspiration to get them there. This is why other change models, more focused on the human psyche, are necessary alongside the procedural models. Most will have heard of Kübler-Ross, perhaps fewer about Bridges and ADKAR, and these are more people-centric theories that consider the emotional journeys that need to be undertaken to effect real change.

A relatively common obstacle that arises in change management is incumbent senior managers not feeling qualified to apply the more psychological skills, which are necessary to ‘move’ people around the quadrants. There can also be a concern around their authenticity and credibility too, perceived or actual. The practice of bringing in external, normally temporary, resources to facilitate change is becoming more common for precisely these reasons. The organisation still has the best drivers, but the ‘change expert’ is there to escort and support them and their nervous passengers through a stretch of tricky and uncertain terrain.

There is no one single correct way to implement change management, but in the end, success will depend on how well you understood and accounted for your staff’s feelings and thoughts, as much as on how clearly you told them what to do.

By Stuart Colligon, Director at Auxesia