Here’s something daring for a Change Management professional to say: change can’t be managed.
You can (and must) lead your organization through a project, a re-organization, or a set of circumstances that changes your operation in fundamental ways. But in the end, “management” doesn’t work.
You may think you can control the process, and if so you may be in for a surprise. I won’t say an “unpleasant” surprise, because there’s always some good that comes out of “failure.” At the very least, you’ve gained valuable insights. At most, you and our organization have grown in ways you hadn’t anticipated.
You may be surprised that your team doesn’t see change the same way you do. You may see that some positions will need to be eliminated and you want to downplay that reality. You may not be contemplating a change in personnel at all – you only see the upside to change. You may be surprised that immediate cost savings are not apparent when you finally implement a change.
You will ask someone like me “How do I get my team to see this change as a great thing for our organization?”
And I will screw up my courage to be quite candid and say: “You can’t.”
You cannot decree how people in your organization are going to perceive the changes you are planning. You cannot manage disruption caused by the need to retrain for new processes and systems, or hide (for long) the fact that change may mean some people lose their jobs. You may not be anticipating job losses at all, and you can follow the best practices in change management, yet you will still get “resistance” and a drop in productivity.
Why? Because people are complicated, because your organization is complex, because most elements of an organization’s culture are hidden under the surface, and because people adapt to change in unexpected ways.
And then you will say to me: “Well if change can’t be managed, why should I hire you?”
And I will say: “Because your job as a leadership team is to create the conditions where you and your employees and stakeholders are co-creating your future together, and that’s what I can help you with, if you’re up for it. It’s never as straightforward as you think it is, but co-creating a resilient and healthy organization has rewards beyond a single project.”
No one gets to choose how another person will react to change. But you do get to choose how you structure your organization. As a leader, you are uniquely positioned to create conditions where change means progress and productivity, not fear and loathing. Do you encourage resilience? Is every part of your workplace aligned to a shared purpose? Do you empower your employees and stakeholders to act and think for themselves towards that shared purpose
Creating the conditions for employees and teams to take responsibility for their own success is quite frankly a scary proposition. That’s the paradox of leadership: letting go of the outcome makes for better outcomes.
If you’re prepared to be surprised, and to learn along with your team, then you’re prepared to lead through change, and I’m prepared to facilitate the process.