What The Hell Just Happened?

It amazes me how many successful executives ‘have all the answers’ and still struggle to make lasting sustainable change that eventually wanes. It’s not about double-helix rainbows or the infamous facepalms you make in your office by day’s end. But, asking questions – the right questions to get to the meat of a problem is often missing. Whats working, what’s not and what would we do differently next time? Looking at what went wrong can help us learn how to improve our personal and organization’s change competence. It’s also reactive looking in the rearview mirror. While it’s not entirely bad, start off on the right foot, be responsive, Lead Elegantly with Voltage AND anticipate what may work, will work, what to look out for and build a gap process that covers the likeliest of scenarios.

I’ve learned reams full from reflecting on my Culture Influencing projects that were most difficult, ones  that became stuck, and the ones that took way too much effort and energy. There were several clients who were satisfied, happy and gave great referrals, yet I wasn’t…

Here are a few pearls that dropped from the sky I’d like to share with you during the reflective discovery process to help you and organizations influence change that sticks ‘for real.’  In an earlier post, I listed 7 Conditions for Successful Organizational Change. These conditions are based on organizational culture and leadership. Today, the opposite of this list is what’s NOT working to achieve change success:

No Commitment from leaders
No Clarity on the status quo, why change now and the desired change  
No Consensus so, no engagement
Not enough Communication
No Compelling interactions between people and groups 
Not attaining Critical mass in the organizational system
No Perseverance to endure the process

What if you knew where the landmines were before you started your change project?

What if you had a simple, practical and powerful checklist to improve your change project?

You can use this checklist when a change process is stagnating to see where you could adjust your approach to unstuck the process. Check and ask yourself some questions to see what could be improved.

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What’s not been communicated enough?

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Why is there no consensus?

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Is everyone in play committed to the change process?

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What’s missing in response to people’s behaviors and interactions?

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Do we need more role models to copy?

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Is our environment safe enough today?

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What’s preventing critical mass to consistently exhibit new behaviors?

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Are our people stuck in the ‘talking trap’ about change and not doing it?

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Are our leaders backing out, busy with other priorities?

These questions may be useful while you’re engaged in or preparing a change process. Keep in mind, there are more fundamental reasons why organizational change fails or disappoints too often.

They are rooted in your conventional way of thinking. This mindset runs deep in people and structures. You’d be surprised how often we encounter variants of this stale thinking in intelligent, highly successful people and good-willing organizations. Look, we’re still operating under 30 to 40-year old business norms today! Who’s getting the credit for work results? Who’s ego is at stake here? It’s Q4 and the ‘9th inning’ layoffs are about to drop! Every year, companies and ineffective leaders of organizations balance the bottom-line by eliminating people. Hell, I used to do it and it’s damn wrong!

What the Hell Happened to Us?

You can’t skirt past nor avoid these reasons before initiating a change project. You get to decide which ones would be game changers for you – and ‘no go’ projects if they don’t meet your “successful positive change criteria” (please stop with the management weaselspeak and communicate simply and powerfully – you’re one of the reasons you’re in this state). Here’s what I’ve witnessed time and again that doesn’t work well for organizational change.

Delegate change

I often hear, ‘can you change my organization for me’ or ‘I can’t get better results from my people.’ Organizations often want the consultant to do the work or tell the organization what to do. It’s relative to #1: Commitment From Top Executives. Many top leaders exclude or disassociates themselves from the change, arguing they weren’t a part of the current culture. The employees have their separate culture and they were ‘too busy with strategy’ or they were ‘on a different level and didn’t have time’ to devote to such things. Sounds to me like they’re above it all. Uhh, excuse me sir/ma’am, you’re part of the problem!

This also raises the issue of whether or not leaders can delegate change. NOPE.

If I can’t work with the top leaders of an organization, I don’t accept the assignment. Leaders must be fully committed to personal and organizational change. Even if they can’t do it alone – eventually, they have to engage the critical mass of organizational members to change. This reason is why I only accept three Culture Influencing projects a year.

Rely On A One Size Fits All Approach 

The expert-mindset where the consultant knows best explains why organizations tend to rely on proven methods, certifications, and best practices. They assume there must be one best way to change move in a certain direction. There should be one correct answer and one truth. BS, not just no, but HELL NO!

Most organizational change projects involve more art than science despite all the scientifically proven change methods. The Godfather of Organizational Culture, former MIT Sloan School of Management professor, Dr. Edgar Schein, stated in the book by Ron Friedman, PhD., Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace said as much. He insists to this day that inquiry is both ‘an art and a science.’ People are not machines, and consultants and managers are not engineers.

Proven methods are important and they provide the tools to work with the process. Tools must be applied to build an organization to create positive change. Don’t admonish the tools that ‘don’t work’ when you don’t work your situation.

Find a process,

follow the process,

trust the process.

Case Study Analysis:  a mid-market outdoor recreation manufacturer that’s consolidated several operations into one in a highly skilled market where highly skilled workers aren’t required.

The client mistakenly took the map for the territory. Once assessed, they had a validated map of their current and preferred culture. That isn’t the same as the actual territory – the topography – the landscape with its hills and valleys; the people working in this ‘scenery’, their visions and behaviors.  We use the map to plan the journey. The actual traveling may surprise you and it requires you to apply the model to what is happening on an everyday basis. You need to change behaviors and adjust habits.

Linear Thinking

One big roadblock to positive change is thinking in a linear manner. If the organization is a car, the leaders are engines and the people are the interior and the world predictable, then things are designed and planned with an expert mindset. Significant change needs a combustible ignition to drive. So you hire the Ivory Tower brand, put a sage on a stage to tell the obedient audience what to do. The army of consultants use a logical method, a 200-page binder full of strategies and tactics and tick all the boxes.  Next you plan your progress from A to B and join the ranks of the 60-75% failure rate of organizational change – or at least the disappointing outcome. Congratulations you’ve perpetuated the Hell so many encounter.

What if your change seems fuzzy?

Maybe it’s more complex and chaotic?

Could small changes initially lead to completely different outcomes?

What if  your organizational systems and change were non-linear?

When you think of people as a community of connections in a myriad of ways they influence each other all the time. One thing leads to another. One new behavior spreads through the system as critical mass is attained. I am not saying you should not plan for outcomes or discard all proven methods. Be open to seeing a different model of reality, a fresh perspective. It will yield big results to see your organization as a commnity and use the levers to achieve big change.

Do you have enough? Maybe you do, for now.

I’ve discovered there are at least seven more causes why organizational change is not working well in many organizations. More to come in the next article…

Where in your life and work do you need to improve your change approach?

What will you adjust?

What are you not prepared to adjust just yet?

The dominant culture and structure of today’s organizations are perfectly designed to produce their current behaviors and outcomes, regardless of whether those outcomes are the ones you want. If your hope is for individuals to act differently, it helps to change their surrounding conditions to be more supportive of the new behaviors so they can flourish into healthy habits. And remember, influencing culture only happens when people take action –  start there.

Culture Influencing is what we do daily. What we teach, coach you and your team can be implemented for years to come. We hand-select every engagement just as you should hand-select every employee and strategic partner. If bouncing a few ideas with a sounding board is all you need or you’re looking for a starting point, then having a conversation is your best next move – no strings attached. Email me or call +1 205-482-2177.

We offer a 90-day Quick Start program for you to test the waters. Elegant Leaders will run a pilot to ensure the direction is clear and the strategy is sound.

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