All organisations, no matter how big, how profitable, how long established, how so motivated or how managed, have one thing in common: the desire for change.
Organisational change is defined as the changes an organisation makes to its working methods or aims in order to deal with new situations. Under this definition even an organisation that wishes to maintain status quo must engage in change as the environments in which it operates constantly evolve. This underpins the need for organisations to have access to more expertise that their boards, C-level executives, internal and external consultants and professional advisors provide. The increasing pace and complexity of change in today’s world means that these advisors are more critical to the organisation than ever. (The business coaching industry has been estimated to be the fastest growing industry globally behind IT.) It would not be too hard to make the case that if it were not for the organisation’s obligation to manage change, few of its directors, executives and advisors would have much of a role to play at all.
With the pressures on organisations to perform and the need to continuously evolve, best practice is no longer enough. Its basis is learning from past practice. As global consulting firm BCG senior partner and managing director, Roselinde Torres, says in her 2013 TED Talk, “Great leaders are not head-down. They see around corners, shaping their future, not just reacting to it.”
Most organisations under-estimate the amount of change they need to be actively managing. In our experience most leaders over-estimate their commitment to change and over-estimate their ability to lead change. It is not unheard of for us to leave a consultation with the meeting effectively summed up as, “Help us improve but we don’t want to do anything differently.” With all due respect to trainers and human resources specialists, a vast amount of training takes place so that organisations can shift the burden of change down to line staff.
Getting people in organisations to change has been the focus of intense examination and analysis for decades, but it usually boils down to the role of leaders in overcoming peoples’ fear of change. Some of this fear comes from the unknown, such as What will happen to my job, if x takes place?” Or, “I’ve spent so much time building this system/team/practice, I must protect my contribution.” Some comes from an anticipated loss, “I am good at doing y so if I stop doing it, I will lose respect/credibility/status.” Some of the fear is reinforced by the relationships we have formed – we seek shelter in the groups where we feel understood.
Encompass Community Services has set itself a mammoth goal: to transform itself from a mechanistic organisation to a community-centric one. This is what the #encompassproject is about. Such an all-encompassing task is overwhelming. Where do you start? How do you coordinate the moves that need to be made across the organisation?
Our approach to change is based on three simple principles.
- Focus. Change without a single, clear and emphatic agenda becomes quickly disjointed. Human nature is such that people need reasons. When these are not clear one of two things will happen: 1) they work the change into existing practice; or 2) they create their own explanation. These imputed explanations may not always be flattering, but worse they can take hold and form a negative sub-culture.
- Move fast. Organisations tend to drag their feet with change. It gives them the illusion of control. In reality it either creates the gaps where resistance can take hold, or people lose the sense of importance of the change. Putting a timeline on change forces you to make a choice about where you will start and to do something. It also allows failure – if it happens – to happen quickly and before people feel committed to sticking to something because of the time and effort invested, even if it is not working.
- Over-communicate. In studies where managers are asked how well they believe they communicate, inevitably when compared to their employees’ responses, they do not do as well as they think they do. The only way to fix this is to over-communicate. Introducing Encompass TV (more in next week’s blog).
While change is all about creating a desired future, many organisations use it to try to repair an imperfect past. The only thing we can change is the here and now. The changes at Encompass will begin with the here and now of the organisation structure. The structure is most visibly recognised by the titles that label the positions its employees hold. Our first task is to ensure the positions that give employees their status and recognition in the organisation do not become the walls that limit their potential.
It is my privilege to help Encompass through this forthcoming change program. Please share your suggestions and questions about the project ahead in the comments section.