Whenever I read curriculum vitae’s of applicants for top management jobs, it is apparent that many pitch their case around exquisite change-management skills. These senior and well-tested cadres are teaching their potential employer that: change-management is a critical capability and one they bring with them to their new job. These senior cadres go further and commit at interview time, to bring about change and stability at organisations once hired. I wonder if this kind of pitching is a result of what applicants read in job advertisements or reflective of a generation of organisations, that considers change-management as a series of one-off events during the life of an organisation.
The above ‘boxed’ approach to organisation change-management should not come as a surprise to those of you in the upper echelons of organisational management. While many leaders and managers constantly talk about change as: ‘the inevitable’, ‘a constant’, ‘a health opportunity to become new’ sadly, the opposite paradigm is practiced in the daily running of most organisations. Uttering change-management sound-bites by managers and leaders, makes them to both feel good but also get recognised as contemporary seniors that understand what managing a modern organisation is all about. I have to put this on the record, albeit very carefully: matters to do with modern managers and leaders, are at times more of a presentation than issue of substance
A typical ‘boxed’ approach to change-management manifests in this order:
• an organisation is experiencing a certain level of turbulence
• the organisations looks either internally or externally, for so-called change-management experts to deal with the turbulence
• an individual is hired on the strength of their change-management skills set
• the assumption in hiring the individual is that they will come into an organisation and administer turn-around treatment/s
• the turbulence is brought under control
• the organisation is weaned off change-management
• we all return to business as usual and get to ever greater heights
• finally, pretend we will keep the wolf from our door, but deep in our hearts, we know it will return sooner than later
So, why this ‘boxed’ change-management culture?
Well, the reply to the above question by the majority of people is: ’change managers come in to solve crisis’, ’to prevent an impending crisis from happening’, and to the more wise, ‘to ensure sustainability’ for the organisation.
As expected, even the answers to the question are ‘boxed’ and reflect a deeply engrained change-management paradigm at the modern organisation. What about approaching answering the above question in a slightly different manner: first, we need to ask ourselves why the need to address an immediate or impending crisis at the organisation triggers change-management. Second, we need to ask why as soon as calm returns or the threat dissipates, it is back to business as usual. Change-management is then locked up in the closet, until another crisis strikes.
Well, we act only when under fire or about to be fired at, and stop thinking-change once the firing stops, because many of us cannot simply deal with the rainbow-effect that change brings about at organisations. There is indeed no recognition even by some very senior managers and leaders that in this stopgap change-management paradigm, lies the underlying cause of having to change-manage every few years. Moreover, such change is accompanied by a constantly worried, nervous, and demoralised staff.
How many of you leaders and managers have been in change management situations where staff have expressed sentiments like:
• ‘This bloody-organisation is forever changing’ – the staff want you leaders and managers to stop that change as it scares them
• ‘There is too much uncertainty and staff are demoralised’ – the coded message is ’stop the change’, we hate the monster and are damn scared
• ‘This woman or man is causing too much change and turbulence, at this normally calm organisation’ – change is attributed to the leader and not the environment the business is operating in
• ‘Why are we considering changing what we know works well?’ – sounds like staff are suggesting: dealing with one day at a time, as the future will take care of itself
Tell you what, though, I do not blame the staff at all for reacting as they do above. First, It is human nature to open all adrenal glands when under threat. Staff uttering the above sentiments are all in self-protection mode. Second, the very organisations they work for, have made their staff perceive change as a disease, that appears once in a blue moon and is treated and cured.
The sad reality is that organisations, big or small, will forever be on a change journey. We can no longer see things as black and white, and at worst grey (black+white). Welcome to the age of the ‘rainbow effect’ at organisations.
Success at the ‘rainbow-effect’ organisation:
• Seamless change and its management is a GIVEN at the modern organisation. Please get to know that you cannot run away from this new change paradigm
• If change-management is a given for all leaders and managers, we can no longer consider it a USP in our curriculum Vitae’s – change-management skills have become commoditised, and we may all consider having another look at our CV
• In two above, is the opportunity for the savvy manager and leader: senior level jobs will be won on one’s ability to manage-change continuously. Managing organisations that are built to change is the skill that may get you your next promotion. Sadly, it is a skill not common to many, but one we can all master – recommended reading: Designing Organisations that are built to Change
• Organisations have to change the manner in which they think about: talent acquisition and management, how they organise their structure, staff reward, deploying information management systems in different and unfamiliar ways, changing the manner in which tools and processes that have accompanied the modern organisations for years, like budgeting, are managed.
My takeaway: The organisation that will excel and become effective in this modern and turbulent age, will be built to change. The biggest obstacle to developing a built to change organisation is how organisations recruit, select, and reward staff, including its top leadership. Looking back at one of my blogs re.:fail-safe culture, fail-safe monks may be a starting point for staff changes.
Do you have the DNA to survive in a built to change organisation and its rainbow-effect?