Ready and wrong
A cautionary tale of doing the right thing the wrong way.
In December 2016, at CMI Victoria network drinks, I happened to run into Joanne Rinaldi of Being Human who asked me a simple question that stopped me in my tracks. This doesn’t regularly happen to people like me. My kind is known for always having a ready and positive answer to the most confounding problems, so you can imagine my distress when I found I was at a loss for words when she said: “I keep getting asked why some companies tire of change and others are always ready for more, what’s their recipe for success you think? You’re always writing stuff, can’t you write about this next?”.
I started to reply, but remembered just in time that I respect Joanne too much for clichés and platitudes so I settled for my back-up option: “I don’t know …but I will find out!”. She spoke of a thing called Change Saturation, which I thought I understood, but I was wrong (the first of many times in this case). The below is a summary of my Change Saturation fact finding adventure.
I’ve been looking for an answer for three months since that faithful meet with Joanne. However unlikely it might seem, no one aside from Prosci and two somewhat random UK-based consultancies even used the words Change and Saturation in one sentence. I ended up learning all sorts of useful facts about chemistry and compound densities, but not much on why people and organisations (never) tire of change.
My thing with Prosci is, they are like the smart kid in class, you know they are right, but seriously, calm down kid! Give the lesser gods a turn every once in a while, alright?! All joking aside, they’ve done years of research and have lots of other readworthy material, but can’t resist the temptation to give prescriptive best practice recommendations that always worked perfectly… somewhere else. Another thing is that their research dates back from 2007-2013, while the Internet and Joanne tell me professionals are still experiencing the problem right now, so their well-researched, smart and business savvy recommendations (which can be summarised as: “have a better plan”) either went unheard, were not that widely applicable or the world was just not ready to hear it yet.
There’s that word again; ready. Ready for what exactly? Well, that’s where I was completely wrong and I did not even (want to) know it. I thought change readiness was all about making sure you have the time, resources and buy-in sorted and then you just make it happen together. Turns out there’s no less than 16 factors to consider according to this Dutch trio of researchers in their publication on Change capacity. I tried to argue their points, but just couldn’t find fault with their reasoning. I was hoping to salvage some of my intellectual and professional pride by thinking that these must be new and revolutionary insights but nope, wrong again, they already wrote this in 2003…Great.
Their 23-page story short: 16 factors divided into organisation and process, 5 types of organisations (cynics, innovative, aged, longing and my favourite, clumsy) and a questionnaire to appease the data-hungry amongst us.
Conclusion: you might think you’re ready, but if you haven’t considered and assessed your sustainable capacity in ALL these areas, you’re merrily skipping into the abyss, thinking you’re doing it right on the way down. (Okay, they didn’t say that exactly)
What annoys me the most about my mistake is that I always say that “change is not hard it’s hard work” and “It’s simple, but not easy”. These guru-like pieces of fortune cookie wisdom have landed me lots of jobs and somehow even delivered successful projects, so maybe I got lucky, maybe I am a Change rockstar, but I was wrong all the same and it took smart kid Prosci and 3 Dutch(wo)men from 2003 to point that out.
The wrongness lies in diligently applying tried and tested checks and balances from the Dark Ages (1980-1990) of Change Management to the complex digital reality of current day work environments. Change is simple, but everyday business life with its conflicting priorities, limited resources and pressured timeframes is anything but simple. If I had a dollar for every time I heard a manager/staff member/executive say: “…and now we just execute the plan”, I could treat most of you to a very decent lunch to discuss the details of what happened next; Change weariness, dispirited employees and failure. It happens all the time, but fortunately that doesn’t make it right.
So, is the alternative to then do endless research, harass staff with surveys every other day, keep rewriting the strategy and never really do anything? Clearly not, but what I found is that the companies who do not tire of change like X, Y and Z, were truly ready for it. Not because the checklist, assessment or planning day outcomes said so, but because they knew it was the right thing for them (and wanted to stay in business). They did not try to be Google or Thankyou or Accenture, they rethought their purpose, decided who they wanted to be (5 types), looked at the real issue from all angles (16 factors) set acceptable priorities they could achieve and own on an individual level and then threw a send-off party for the change manager.
Simple…but not easy.