Understanding the Change Process

In my February post, I described a simple case study of how I used Michael Fullan’s model in my change consultancy practice. An essential element of Michael’s model is understanding change. In this month’s post, I will explore further what he means by that and how I practice it.

Many change efforts founder and fail

My experience, and much of the literature on change, indicates that failed efforts were ill-conceived and even more poorly led. Chief among the reasons for such mediocre execution of change plans is a lack of a proper understanding of change and its potential results.

I have successfully practised Michael Fullan’s model and offer these thoughts for your consideration and comment.

Change is about securing the optimal solution

Change is not about innovating the most. It is about obtaining the optimal solution or desired outcome that meets the vision and mission of your organisation, aligned with the values that underpin it. The optimal solution takes you where you agreed on you need to go, not necessarily way beyond that point. If you do that, the chances are you will throw you staff into even greater turmoil than planned.

It is not enough to have the best ideas

Brilliant ideas are excellent, but if they are unrefined in the fires of human interaction, most notably with the people tasked with embracing and embedding those ideas, then they are virtually worthless. Change plans, in my experience, generally do not survive intact their first exposure with people. Those interactions will generate new and often better ideas, opinions, and variations.

There is no ‘business as usual’

If I had received a thousand dollars from every change manager I have worked with over the past forty years who thought business would carry on as usual while a significant change was implemented, and was wrong, I would be a very wealthy man. To a person, they all failed to understand, anticipate, and allow for the implementation dip in everyday practice that occurs almost simultaneously with the mention of the word change. Know that this will happen, and be prepared to manage it.

Leaders need to redefine resistance

In next month’s post, I will explore this further. Suffice to say here, change leaders need to redefine resistance as necessary, often critical engagement. Everyone and their cat will have a view of your plan for change. Do not stifle those views; provide an outlet for them. You never know, in engaging closely with staff, they may well offer some better alternatives.

Making change changes your team or organisation culture, too

Fullan identifies in his model that reculturing is the name of the game. Without question, in every change scenario I have devised and led over the past forty years, that has been a significant consequence, and not always for the best. Planning for and making fourteen staff redundant in 1998 as part of a budget-driven change scenario, which I led, did not prepare me for the massive internal and external cultural change that then ensued. While the source of some amusing stories years later, it resembled a living nightmare at the time and remains the bleakest year of my decades-long career.

Change is always complex

So, do not think you can prepare a checklist for your process, and then work your way through it. Any change is not a checklist scenario, and if you try to treat it as such, best prepare for disappointment. Yes, do plan for it in as detailed a way as possible, but also be ready to absorb ripple, and occasionally tidal wave disruptions that might destroy your flow if you are unready or unable to flex and adapt.

I hope these thoughts challenge and assist your thinking and practice of change leadership.


Postscript to my March post: In the post, I talked about closing the ‘knowing and doing gap’ without properly referencing the attributed authors of the concept, Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I Sutton, and their book, The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge Into Action. I apologise unreservedly to both Jeffrey and Robert for my oversight.