Leadership and Real Change
by Byron Kalies

One of the most frustrating things about change is that no-one can see the benefits as quickly as you can, as leaders. Why is that? Why are people so stupid, defensive and traditional. Why can't they be more like you? You've done all the hard work. You've looked at the strategy, weighed up the pros and cons. You've even carried out a cost-benefit analysis to prove that it's worth it. Yet still they won't change.

Well there are some very good reasons. The first would be because you, as instigators of change are in a pretty good position. It's your change. You own it and have bought into it. It really means something for you.

Also, you really are ahead of the game. In terms of the Coping Cycle you've gone past the denial, defence and discarding stages. Your self-esteem and performance may have been on the floor a few weeks ago, but now - hey - you're all for it. Of course you are but your team aren't there yet.

They'll be at various stages of the cycle. There'll be some with you and there'll be others in the 'why?', 'you are joking?', 'change again?' stages. These people need to be helped through this cycle and supported as their self-esteem dips, their performance hits rock bottom. You know what this is like.

Remember that new computer system we had installed. They said it was the best, state of the art, superb, blah, blah. A week later you couldn't even send an email - it had all changed. God how you hated it. How you wished you could have your new system back. However, as time went by and you learnt to use it properly it was 'so much better than the previous system', and even 'I don't know why we didn't introduce this years ago?'. So, that's another good reason.

There's also a really interesting model that explains this in a different way. It's a very simple formula for change. It says that to overcome resistance to change you need a Vision, an idea of the first steps and enough dissatisfaction with the current situation to make it happen:

Dissatisfaction x Vision x First Steps > Resistance

The Vision is usually the easiest. Well, it's all relative. However, if you haven't got something to aim for then why on earth are you carrying out this change process. Unfortunately people who have the vision are not always the best at communicating that vision to others. If this is something you, as a leader, struggle with then perhaps getting others involved at this stage would help. These could be people at all levels who are committed to the change. Choose the cynics in the Organisation as well as the starts. Cynics frequently have great networks and once they are won over the task gets a lot easier. Invest time and effort into these 'change champions' ( not my favourite word either), and communicate, communicate, communicate. Use every medium you can think of - people are different. They pay attention to different things - you know that.

The first steps can prove tricky. If people are sold the vision properly and the benefits explained it's a great start. People, already under threat from this change process want to know what's going to happen and when. There's nothing wrong with that. The problem however is that life isn't that simple. If it's a large change programme that will take months, years - then there's probably no-one in the Organisation that knows every step of the process. Yet, people expect you to. They expect that you'll know what will happen to their part of the office on April 24th 2007. It's not logical. It's not reasonable but there it is. What is logical and reasonable is that you'll know with some certainty what the first steps will be. You have to let people know what you know, and also what you don't know.

A useful analogy to help with this is to think of the change as a journey across the sea. Your Organisation is the boat and the vision is somewhere out there. The vision is fairly clear. OK it may change slightly but it should have been defined clearly so you at least know where you're heading. The journey is not entirely under your control. There are numerous factors that will affect your route. In nautical terms; wind, tide, expertise of crew, condition of boat, etc. In business terms; finance, resource, expertise of crew, condition of Organisation, etc.

The only reasonable expectation would be to chart out the first few weeks, stages of the project. If you try to do anything more than this inevitably it will fail and you would have failed to meet peoples' expectations. Then you'll have the whole 'told you it wouldn't work' scenario to deal with. Don't set yourself up to fail.

The difficult part (which doesn't seem to occur in other models) is the element of dissatisfaction. For this process to kick off the dissatisfaction needs be real and significant before any change happens. It's generally not until this dissatisfaction reaches epic proportions that you'll do anything. This applies to change in all areas of life, not only the business world.

For instance I'm 47 years old. I used to play rugby and football but that was a while ago now and .. well let's just say I like a drink, good food and I could do with losing a few pounds. Really I should start going to the gym and eating healthier (my first steps). I would quite like to see my daughter grow up and have grandchildren and live a good few more years yet (my vision). So why on earth aren't I doing the right things now? It make total sense, logically for me to eat healthier, take more exercise yet I haven't done it. I guess my dissatisfaction level isn't sufficiently high yet. If I started having some heart murmurs, or had a friend of a similar age in hospital that may well do the trick.

I'm not suggesting for one minute that you go out and make your staff miserable with the current situation. That would certainly raise their dissatisfaction level but they may well decide to leave instead of change. No, what I'd suggest is that you talk to people and raise their level of awareness. One consequence of being stuck in 'denial' is that you won't see what's going on around you. Something obviously needs to change - hence change initiative. People need to address that problem. Once they do and accept there is a problem their resistance should be significantly lowered. This takes time. People need to be communicated with and their fears addressed. Change is scary. But it's a lot easier when you've people with you than agin you.

Byron Kalies is a Liverpool-based writer with 12 years' international experience as a management consultant. Recent publications include Across The Board (U.S.A.), Career Times (Hong Kong), CEO Refresher (Canada) of course, Guardian (U.K.), Sydney Morning Herald (Australia), MIS (U.K.), Management First (U.K.), Lifelong Learning (U.S.A.), Business Day (South Africa), Business Plus (Ireland). Book "25 Management Techniques in 90 Minutes" (Management Books 2000) published April 2005. He can be contacted through his web site at www.byronkalies.co.uk or emailed at byron@byronkalies.co.uk .

Many more articles in Leading Change in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 2006 by Byron Kalies. All rights reserved.

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