Throughout my career as a C-level executive, management troubleshooter, and organization consultant, I have been around the change/transformation process a number of times.
For me, some of these “change programs” have been more successful and enjoyable than others.
Observations on Change
To provide some valuable experiences to you in an effort to help you learn and grow, I humbly offer some observations and insights from my change agent experience.
“We are always at risk to leave our values in the attic when we fall in love with great looking new techniques.” ~M.Weisborg
We know there are many reasons that despite the hard work of smart and engaged people 70% of all change efforts fail. Below are a few (perhaps) lesser-known concepts from my experience that may help in understanding why change efforts with so much promise can end up making things worse and doing harm because they go wrong so often.
Hidden Reasons Why Change Programs Go Wrong
Author John Gardner once said:
“Most ailing organizations have developed a functional blindness to their own defects. They are not suffering because they cannot resolve their problems, but because they cannot see their problems.”
This has been my experience over the years in designing and executing change assignments. This condition may come from self-deception.
Or it may just come from big egos.
It may come from a culture that is not psychologically safe so telling the truth is not the norm or from collusion and false agreement within the management system. And, of course, leaders (big L and little l) make bad decisions.
Regardless, when some mix of these dynamics are at work, the ability to make informed and accurate judgments and decisions about change management is greatly diminished.
I learned this powerful dynamic from Albert Ellis one of the pioneering cognitive psychotherapists. Since then others have added to the understanding of this concept.
“The essential learning here is that once an individual’s belief system is established and embedded, s/he may begin to question the ‘rightness’ of change initiatives if they do not conform to the individual’s beliefs about the best way to improve the system.”
Such that, when evidence supporting the needed change is presented, it is ignored and resisted until the company’s ability to gain the expected benefits of the change is lost.
This idea comes from developmental psychology. My reference is the work of Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey.
What Kegen and Lahey discovered over many years of researching and studying resistance to change is:
“Having an open mind, or being pressured or coerced to change does not produce (authentic) change in an individual, but that most people have internal ‘competing commitments’ that inhibits their receptiveness and willingness to change.”
They also discovered that behind the competing commitment is a major assumption that creates an immunity to change.
For example, I am not opposed to the change, but I may have doubts, fears, etc. about future phases of the change that I may not be capable of controlling or able to deal with. As such, my competing commitment driven by this assumption about future issues will cause me to resist despite my conscious desire to support the change.
Changing behavior requires self honesty and the willingness to invest in sincere disclosure and feedback. Once the competing commitment is made visible and is worked through, we can overcome the immunity to change.
Personal Awareness Level
This is a theory I started to develop in Graduate School. Fortunately, smarter people were working in the same direction.
“Perhaps the most powerful tool we have in being an effective agent for change is our presentation of self in executing our role in doing the work.”
Our ability to bring our highest self to the cause we are supporting is determined, in large part, to our personal level of awareness. This dynamic affects the range and depth of the impact we can make and our ability to make choices and use skillful means to increase our impact.
Negative Informal System Dynamics
These are the silent, unspoken assumptions, processes, and behaviors operating in the informal system manifesting as negative group dynamics.
They work to disrupt and undermine the goals and objectives of specific organizational initiatives that are not perceived as congruent with the informal system. Or, that threaten the cultural center of gravity that regulates what behaviors, values, relationships and actions are beneficial in preserving the wellbeing of the informal system members.
Adapting to Change
I have found it helpful to expect and understand the disruptive effects these hidden mental and emotional thoughts and feelings can have on most of our change agendas. Even our best people are not immune and can disrupt our change efforts without really knowing why.
Our ability to adapt and respond effectively to a constantly changing and chaotic world is in fact both a mind and spirit issue. By advancing our understanding of the hidden dynamics that may cause change to fail; we can develop new perspectives and a renewed courage to confront these situations, with a creative and innovative spirit.
- The Big L Leader model
- Courageous use of self in execution
- Deeper understanding of group dynamics
- More effective interventions at all levels
- Cultural sensitivity
- Inclusion in mobilizing the formal and informal systems in support of our vision, values, and purpose
Finally, our change initiatives must become integral in design to ensure inspired accountability, engaged support, and sustained commitment.
“The reason change is so hard is because everyone thinks it is about someone else.” ~D. Ramsey
Have you encountered any of these change dynamics? Did they change your design and execution plans? How do you know if the informal system will support planned change? Does your company recognize the wealth of diverse talents in their workforce? Does Change Management need an integral approach to insure success?
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