Monday, August 6, 2012

Empower Yourself with the Truth: Step Four = Recognize the Difficulty of Change

Last week, I wrote about office politics, based on Chapter 7 of Geoffrey M. Bellman’s book, Getting Things Done When You Are Not in Charge.  Now let’s look at Chapter 8, in which Bellman describes the realities of the change process and why it is so difficult.

In Chapter 8, Bellman lists nine realities of change. His descriptions range from a paragraph to a page and a half. I’m going to give a one-sentence statement about each reality, then explore a couple that struck me as particularly important for change agents today.

Bellman’s nine points about change are

1. Change is profoundly difficult: Most change agents overestimate their ability to bring about change and underestimate the organization’s ability to maintain its current state.

2. Rapid change is dangerous: By definition, change contradicts the established way of doing things, and we underestimate the difficulty of changing people’s ways, so change is likely to be slower than we would like.

3. Sound change is rooted in respect: As explained in an earlier post, [link] we need to respect the reasons why the organization is the way it is; if we do not, the organization will resist our efforts at change.

4. Resistance demonstrates power: Resistance is how the people in organizations demonstrate their strength; we need to involve them in the process so they help, rather than resist our efforts.

5. Perseverance is a lost art: Determining what changes are necessary in an organization is easy, compared with the difficulty of embedding the change into “how we do business” so that our changes maintain themselves.

6. Continuous innovation is crucial: We can’t move on after one huge change effort; making continuous small changes over time might be more effective.

7. Ideas must find their time: Our ideas for change might not fit the time, and old ideas that were passed over might be right for now.

8. We change changing organizations: While we are in the middle of our change initiative, the world and its impact on our organization continues to evolve – organizations are not static and we need to remain flexible.

9. There are perils to success: Once we are successful, people move on, and we must be prepared to change again.

And there, in nine steps, is Bellman’s discussion of how to bring about change. As I re-read this chapter, I recalled the following from my own experience:

  • The organizations I worked in hated large-scale change initiatives. The organizational design folks took on change effort after change effort, and most managers resisted. Their resistance was not futile; they often could delay and sabotage even the best designed change effort. Maybe small nudges would have moved us further in the long run than large-scale programs that took legions of people who didn’t want to cooperate.
  • One organization I worked in focused for years on “continuous improvement.” Some efforts saved a few thousand dollars, others saved millions. All improvements were celebrated. This organization was one of the more innovative groups I worked with.
  • Change does not take place in a vacuum – no organization remains the same for more than one sales season, and often for far shorter. People change, customers change, we ourselves change. The reality of change is messy; it’s not a laboratory, it’s a marketplace.

* * * * *

In this four-week review of Part 3 of Bellman’s book on empowering yourself with the truth, we have looked at how we need to analyze our current reality, how to empower ourselves, at the realities of office politics, and this week at the difficulties of change.

What has your experience been with these issues? What has brought you success on change initiatives?

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