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  • Gilbert Kruidenier

Six Change Conference Insights

Quote from Abraham Lincoln: The best way to predict the future is to create it.

I just finished up chairing the two day IQPC Culture Transformation and Change Management 2017 conference. I was beyond impressed and inspired by great speakers, panelists and participants from ANZ, ATO, Allianz, ACH Group, Brisbane City Council, Chartered Accountants, Lafarge Holcim, Lendlease, Metro Trains, NBN, NPS Medicinewise, Rabobank, Teachers Mutual Bank, Telstra, Wesfarmers and Westpac (to just name a few).

Aside from finding out that being the chair is rewarding, but not nearly as much fun as being in the room, I got a real sense of where we are as a profession with participants from all areas of business, NGOs, Government and not-for-profits from Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Melbourne and New Zealand.

Over the past few months I was getting quite concerned about where things were heading with lots of people playing buzzword bingo, starting yet another rebranding cycle of tired topics or just simply jumping on the latest (agile) bandwagon. By the end of day two, I left feeling reaffirmed in my belief that we truly are a great community of practitioners that sometimes gets distracted, sometimes gets redirected, but also never stops trying to make good things happen for other people.

My opening and closing address was simple: as change practitioners we are in a unique position to guide the organisations in our care through complexity and adversity. Current and future generations are looking for ways to make this work and we have the capability and therefore responsibility to support their efforts and lead the way by example. Because if not us, then who? That got a lot more nods than I had anticipated.

What followed were 10 real stories of how to make (culture) change work moving forward and about 1,000 great ideas from all the panels, discussions and break out conversations. Here’s my main take-aways:

  1. Data is the great equalizer

  2. Agile work practices are becoming a thing

  3. Executives still get treated as non-humans

  4. Oversimplification as the new enemy

  5. It’s finally okay to say it sometimes sucks

  6. Tools, schmools, no-one cares!

Data is the great equalizer

During one of the panels, the panel members ended up having very different responses and views on a question about how to pitch change to the C-suite. One said: ‘monetize it’ and the other wanted us to focus on the engagement side of things. Tricky stuff when they are both right, but the views seem conflicting. The common ground in both their replies was that you need to back it up with data, be it engagement scores leading to higher retention rates and staff satisfaction or better customer services scores because of investment in capability building. To be heard, you have to speak the language that is understood, not just repeat what you said, but louder. Data does this like nothing else. When done right, data is neutral and properly analysed can really support your case. Words alone are often not enough to convince someone, let the data do the talking and keep the conversation going.

Agile work practices are becoming a thing

Don’t worry, I wasn’t hiding under a rock and yes, I did see all the marketing propaganda from various organisations who had all of a sudden seen the light, but something good is starting to happen. The agile conversation is changing. People are starting to ask different questions. No longer are they asking what agile is and what Agile is, or which is better, or if it’s not just Scrum/Waterfall. They’re looking to find out what makes it different, how to make it work for them, how to do it right and they mostly want to hear what worked for others to see if there’s lessons to be learned.

Executives still get treated as non-humans

A less positive trend seems to be that we’re still blaming executives for not coming to the party. Well, perhaps they don’t like our music, dancing or snacks or more specifically, perhaps they are getting fed up with all of them being tarred with the same brush. I get it, we like our cautionary tales about the exceptional and exceptionally disappointing executive who just doesn’t get it and doesn’t care. But that’s what they are, exceptions. Just as most of us are not all about the warm and fluffy, neither are all executives heartless, clueless corporate climbing non humans with a calculatorfor a heart. Of course, there’s improvements to be made and as soon as we treat them like real people, with lives, minds and ideas, who are looking at you to provide the solutions they cannot see themselves because of all the other things going on. I could not agree more and will not pretend that’s easily accomplished, but then again, worthwhile things hardly ever are.

We are coming to with complexity in the workspace and ANZ probably said it best: ”Slow.It.Down.” This false and self-serving sense of urgency is not helping anyone. Change takes time, you can start now and see some wins on the short term, but let’s be real and tell it like it is, it will take time to do the many small tasks and however counterintuitive it seems, spending a bit more time on a really good design with the people who will be mostly impacted pays its own dividend many times over. We know this. Acknowledging complexity and then providing ways to deal with it will be the way forward for most of us. So many practitioners shared their frustrations with the (almost) patronising approach of (well-intended but ultimately unhelpful) fellow practitioners along the lines of ’don’t worry your pretty little heads, we’ll do the hard stuff for you’. If you hired smart people to do a job, treat them that way. They know life is complex, they look to you for guidance and clarity so they can do their jobs with a sense of ownership, pride and dignity.

It’s finally okay to say it sometimes sucks

Lafarge Holcim and Metro had truly captivating stories of how to outsource and downsize with dignity. It’s one of those ‘you had to be there’ things, but both speakers conveyed a sense of genuine care on behalf of their organisations, giving it to people as it was and providing them with options in a situation where most people assume all staff would rebel, resist or just leave. Didn’t happen. I saw a room full of people getting inspired by two very real stories about the hard parts, the pride in knowing you did your best for people in your care, the success of accomplishing a set tasks with your humanity and dignity intact through authentic engagement and expectation management.

Tools, schmools, no-one cares!

I hope this mindset of tool, model and method agnosticism I read from the room continues and gains momentum like never before. Perhaps my optimism is getting the better of me, but I got the sense that we’re becoming quite confident to experiment, fail and try again, faster and more glorious than ever before. This will undoubtedly root out the template peddlers we all love to hate, isolate the fear mongering advisers and separate the opportunists from the true professionals. The practitioners in the room seemed up for the challenge of moving beyond the confines and safety of tried and true and that is exactly the courageous and bold approach expected of us.

Thank you so much for your contributions Michelle Cock, Ginger Nocom, Ben Forsyth, Stacey Scott, Jaques Liebenberg, Thomai Veginis, Sarah Thompson, Paul Pemberton, Nina Muhleisen, Jane Balle, Victoria Jolley, Nikki Alberts and Cathy Doyle. Your stories reignited my passion for a profession that has so much to offer.

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