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What is Change Management? The Rule of Three

March 6th, 2013

Celebration

Great art can inspire change and drive us to action.  It can make you dream of something better or make you aware of your dissatisfaction with the status quo. The former makes your feelings soar.  The latter can bring pain.  Which do you believe drives us to action?  While I’d like to believe we act on visions of what could be, I think we’re more driven to immediate action by the feelings stirred in the dark painting.

When I reflect on that idea I remember reading how the opposite of satisfaction isn’t dissatisfaction but the lack of satisfaction.  Just because we’re not satisfied, we may not be willing to change right now.  We may in the long run. But maybe not right now.  Meanwhile, when we’re dissatisfied, we act.   Not being satisfied won’t drive new behavior simply because change is scary and painful.  So it’s not until the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing that we change.

I thought a lot about this lately because I had three consecutive discussions with new prospective clients about the subject of change.  In each case, the party with whom I was speaking wanted to talk about driving operational excellence. But what we were really discussing was change.  The three conversations were all very different organizations yet they had very common denominators.  So here were the three scenarios;

  1. A state university pushed to change by technology and funding pressure was described as being very resistant to change driven from outside its culture.  Yet they lack an acceptable and successful internal change model so they remain wrestling with how to proceed.
  2. A heavily regulated division of a large insurance company described itself as having little process discipline and is considering BPM software to lock down processes.
  3. A successful manufacturer that implemented Six Sigma using an outside party five to ten years ago saw few meaningful results and quit.  Now they look to restart but recognize how hard it will be to get everyone to buy in a second time.

Download WP about 10 Essential Do’s & Don’t’s to Driving Change with OpEx

In each case, I strongly advised against three things;

  1. Don’t emphasize form over substance.   You don’t have to sell a big change model, adopt a new software application or role out a headline OpEx initiative.  You just have to move some things forward and make some gains to win hearts and minds.  They’ll take it from there.
  2. Don’t superimpose an external set of rules such as a software program.  Everyone organization has successes internally.  Focus on those. Build on them.
  3. Recognize what may seem like dysfunctional behavior to you is probably quite normal.  Someone whose profession is to improve is often puzzled by those that don’t embrace it.    The problem is the subject never said they were dissatisfied.  While they may agree things could be better, they aren’t motivated to change.   That isn’t irrational.  We seek self actualization in the long run but in the short run we change when we are unhappy.

War

So what can we do at those three organizations to avoid the pitfalls and drive some much needed change?  We recommended the following actions;

  1. Celebrate your own successes.  But reverse engineer them so the success is replicable.  And improvement may have occurred through hard work but there were probably some unconscious best practices that can used as examples for the rest of the organization.  Advertise the success and highlight the best practices that can be replicated.
  2. Find who is dissatisfied and wants to change.  Don’t try to convince people to change with arguments of a better life.  Instead, find who is dissatisfied and willing to go through the pain of the change.  If you find someone with pain that isn’t acting, help them become aware of the level of pain.  If they begin to show signs of a willingness to change, start working with them.  If not, come back to them.  If it’s real long term, chronic pain, they’ll be ready one day.
  3. Let the organization pull what it needs rather than a centralized group pushing what they think is needed.  This isn’t to say a centralized group doesn’t know what is needed.  It very well may in which case it should make it available. But you dictate change.  You are better off giving them the ability to drive the change they see as needed.

The bottom line is that very different businesses have very common needs when it comes to change.  The core elements of change are universal.  I’ve tried to identify a couple of key “don’t do’s” and an equal number of “do’s.  Hopefully, these will help you avoid some potholes and accelerate success.  If you’d like to discuss, please contact me.

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