Recently, at a meeting of managers I was facilitating, I ran a session entitled “What makes good change management.” As expected, all five groups came up with pretty much the same thing: communicate a lot and well, be true to your values, be clear about the need to change etc. Pretty much standard stuff which you would get if you Google “change management principles”.
So everyone agreed: there is nothing secret or special about change management. You just have to follow the simple principles. Right?
Well, no. Some change is structural and process driven. Change management principles work then. But the vast majority of change is cultural. It requires deep change on the behalf of your staff. Something they may not welcome however well you communicate it!
When looking at change programmes I try to see which type of change is most common.
What are the three types of change?
Type One: Helping People Across The Road. This is where we are at one place and we are clear we can’t stay there. We need to cross the road (or the river if it’s more tricky) and we have a clear target (the other side of the road) that we can communicate to everyone, again and again. We have our eyes on the risks. Everyone is involved and we encourage them all to look left and right as we cross the road. At some point, we are over the road and in our new place and can live happily ever after. Change complete.
Type Two: Helping People Change From Human To Beetle. This is where our very nature has to change. We could be the greatest human ever – but that is not going to win any beetle prizes. No matter how much communication goes on, the thought of being a beetle terrifies us. We don’t want to hear about how great being a beetle is. Shut up. If I just ignore you, you will go away.
Type Three: Helping People Change From Human To An As Yet Undecided Member Of The Animal Kingdom And Then Probably Change Again After That Into Some Other Crazy Animal. Many type two change programmes end up becoming this type as, though at the start of the process, a beetle seemed the write insect, actually conditions have changed and the beetle is not quite right. We need something different. In this type, change is continuous and endless. Just when we have changed it is time to change again.
Change principles don’t help us when the change expected is type two or three. These are culture changes and the only thing that can help is changing our perception of change itself. We need to see change as good. We should welcome it. Encourage it. Demand it. We should be upset if there hasn’t been any change recently. We should sit down with our line managers and ask what type of insect we should be in the future. If things aren’t changing, we should panic. Are we getting stale? Complacent?
Your small improvement for today is to look at any changes you are managing and decide what type of change it is. How does your approach need to change?