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Change Work July 2010

The more it stays the same

There's very little in the news about things staying the same.  I suppose it wouldn't be news by definition.   Rather we hear policies, predictions and threats that point to massive changes on their way in most aspects of life.  This kind of news generates either excited anticipation, fear or indifference depending on how you think you'll be affected.

Many people are quickly bored if they have no sense of change happening.  Others seek stability and are disturbed by the idea of change - and particularly by uncertainty.

In a recent article I discussed why people resist change.  Here I'll review the same issues from the perspective of the manager, or "change agent".

Reflecting on this, a new question occurred to me. Is change management really any different from project management?

Well, I suppose that we usually think of change management as being expressed within the context of a project - but one with particular goals that distinguish it. 

Whereas a "real" project is aimed at producing some tangible product with a clear value, change projects impact on the organisation itself and the value they deliver is usually speculative - a matter of opinion or faith.

The other difference is that the people involved in a change project are likely to be personally affected by the outcome.  And I suggest that this is the factor that makes the management of change particularly challenging.

Also, if you're involved in building a new facility or developing a new product then you might reasonably expect success to bring you some form of recognition and reward.  But is this true of "change"?

So, there are two questions an individual is likely to ask themselves in relation to a change project that wouldn't arise in other cases:

In planning to lead a change project it's wise to put significant effort into providing positive answers to these questions. Perhaps different answers for each individual involved.

This will tend to revolve around fairly clear issues of self-interest: more work or less, money, perks or recognition.  But remember the emotional factors, usually unstated, that stem from people's beliefs about what they can and cannot do.  These can be absolute blockers for the individual concerned and may force them to resist the change in seemingly unreasonable ways - probably quite out of character.

So look out for these clues that there's a hidden problem and be prepared to coach some people through the project.  (Are you able to have a conversation about something personal?  Do you need to bring in someone independent to act as counsellor?)

In preparing your approach to leading change, remember the two different motivation types: towards and away.

It isn't going to get you far to enthuse about the future benefits that will flow from the change if you're dealing with someone who's away-motivated.  They may well accept that the benefits could come, but they won't be excited by the prospect.  They are much more concerned about the multitude of problems that they foresee and might feel that the task is impossible.

You'd be well advised to respect and accommodate this point of view.  These are the practical, problem-solving people who can actually make it work - once you've persuaded them to attempt it.

What's in it for them?  The satisfaction of winning the game and restoring order and comfort.

Towards-motivated people are likely to be interested in the value of the outcome and tend to overlook difficulties.  For them it's good to be aware of what they value and to emphasise the corresponding benefits in the change.

What's in it for them?  The excitement of making things different - of reaching a new place.

So what else is important to an effective agent of change? What are the underlying values that motivate and guide them?

I've explored this with a range of managers, all very experienced in leading and facilitating change.  Some common themes emerged.

The things they most value in the context of a change project are:

Their beliefs about themselves, about the others involved and about their organisations are:

Values and beliefs together comprise "attitude".  So if you want to adopt the attitude of an effective agent of change then you need to become the person who shares the above values and beliefs.

And that just takes practice.  Believe it!