Are You Assuming Change?

Do you make assumptions when planning for a change?

My experience tells me that unconscious assumptions underpin most planned change. What is more, those assumptions can be important determinants of whether the actual change planned occurs.

In this post, I consider ten typical assumptions that change planners should or should not make when planning their next scenario. I draw my learning from over four decades of actively planning and participating in professional and life changes, and from experiencing much change planned by others. The assumptions go like this:

  • Do not assume that what you believe should result in change is the thing that will happen. Often in change processes, you exchange your version of reality with others around you. That interaction inevitably will impact and probably transform your original ideas.
  • That is because significant change is usually complex, ambiguous and open to interpretation. People will view your proposal through their lens, and that will bring different opinions and perspectives. So, do assume that your ideas will be subject to a process of clarification.
  • That clarification, in turn, means you should assume that conflict will arise in any given change process, and you ought to prepare for it. That is not least because the participants in any change scenario will draw on their different realities and wish to assert those, rather than easily or necessarily accepting another’s idea or plan.
  • Do assume, because of those differing perspectives, that people might need some pressure to change. However, exerting that pressure should be done in a way that engages and enables people as participants, with valid views and opinions.
  • Always assume that effective change, properly embedded, will take lots of time. In my direct experience of leading many change scenarios, often twelve months or much longer, depending on the exact nature of the change planned and executed.
  • Also, do not assume that lack of proper change implementation is about always about implacable resistance to the proposed change, or even a significant rejection of the values embodies in the change proposal. There might be any number of reasons for less than satisfactory implementation, including poor leadership of the process, the insufficient time allotted, inadequate resources allocated, and, often, mission or vision drift on the original idea itself.
  • Do not assume everyone will adapt to the change. We all know that change is complex, takes time, and is open to interpretation. So, do assume that you may lose people along the way, in one way or another. Try to minimise this by celebrating small steps, quick wins, and accomplishments along the change journey. That builds confidence in the direction of travel and may just help to convert some of the more change phobic or challenges in your team or organization. Michael Fullan offers this advice: “Stay focused on what you have collectively achieved, not on all there is yet to do.”
  • Assume you will need to plan carefully and as fully as you can, taking into account as many of the previously noted assumptions as you can. Remember, as a leader of a change process, your knowledge is pivotal to its success. Based on your knowledge, whether revised through iteration or not, a sound change plan will deliver results.
  • However, you should also assume that any action specified may vary. I agree with Michael Fullan, one of my favorite change experts, that action decisions are often a combination of valued knowledge, political considerations, on-the-spot decisions, and intuition. So, while knowledge of the change process is critical, it will never fully represent the sole basis for action decisions.
  • Finally, always assume that change can be perplexing, irritating and frustrating. At times, the slowness of pace may even discourage you. However, there is one thing about change scenarios of which I am sure. If you carry the majority of your people with you, allowing time and space for interaction and debate, listening actively and intensely to their views, and incorporating ideas that are better than your original ones, successful change for the majority will ensue.

I would welcome your feedback on these assumptions, how they might have played out in your lives, and look forward to hearing from you.