Are We Leading Change with the Wrong Framework?

By |2019-09-23T09:51:37+11:00September 22nd, 2019|Categories: Change Readiness, Leadership, Managing Change|

Think of the term ‘change management’. What framework is implicitly related to that term? Obviously, it’s the management framework. Accordingly, change management is one type of management. ‘Management’ is the broad framework and ‘change management’ is a subset of that framework.

But when we talk of management or change management, what we mean is a framework shaped by research. Research into management didn’t really get going until the late 1800’s. Before that time, organisations still needed to manage change (think of the Industrial Revolution), but instead of basing management on a scientific understanding of social systems, it was based on the military model. In other words, civilian organisations were very hierarchical and the military framework of ‘command and control’ was the normal way they functioned. Even the formal business suit was adapted from uniforms worn by military officers.

What we know from research

But towards the end of the 19th century, management studies began appearing in academic institutions like the Wharton School in the US. Later, in the early to mid-20th century, management gurus like Peter Drucker and Alfred Sloan were instrumental in bringing evidence-based practice to the forefront.

So, what does research say about frameworks and leading change? In the 1930s and 1940s, an early researcher into change management theory, Kurt Lewin, showed the power of a simple 3-step process – unfreeze, change, refreeze. That means something like this: change is easier to bring about if you begin by disrupting the old way of doing things, introduce a new way of doing things, and then make the new way the normal way of doing things.

How is this different from the ‘command and control’ approach of the military framework? It’s mostly different in the in terms of power. In the military framework, power is centralised in the leaders – they give the orders and the rank-and-file carry out the orders. But Lewin sees more complexity of the civilian organisational system, where power is distributed more widely throughout the system. ‘Unfreezing’ involves taking power away from practices that are normal and ‘feel right’ to employees. Or, to put it another way, it’s helping employees to release the power they have over familiar ways of working. And ‘refreezing’ is about strengthening the power of new practices, so employees become attached to them (or, to rephrase, helping employees increase the power of attachment they feel towards new ways of working).

The management framework recognises that power is distributed around the organisation. John Kotter is arguably the leading exponent of the change management framework in the world today. His 8-step process highlights that leading change is about recognising where power is distributed in the organisation and performing certain tasks that utilise that power to effect change. Consider his 8 steps:

  • Create a sense of urgency
  • Build a guiding coalition
  • Form a strategic vision and initiatives
  • Enlist a volunteer army
  • Enable action by removing barriers
  • Generate short-term wins
  • Sustain acceleration
  • Institute change

Here change leaders have power, but they are not like a military general who gives orders and expects them to be followed. They are more like facilitators who enlist the support of other power brokers, facilitate an urgency, focus, and strategy, and clear the pathway so successful outcomes can be achieved.

This management framework is the dominant framework in the world today. And it is a clear improvement on the military framework – at least in civilian organisations. But is this framework the last word in how to lead change? Is it the best we can do?

I want to suggest another framework. A more expansive framework.

I call it the ‘readiness framework’.

The readiness framework

The readiness framework is also concerned with power, but with a different kind of power. In fact, I want to draw your attention away from the concept of power and onto the concept of capacity.

Readiness for change is primarily about two things – the psychological capacity to succeed at the change process, and the will-ingness to engage in the change project. Let’s unpack that. What does ‘psychological capacity’ mean? First, it doesn’t mean technical know-how. You certainly might need some training to succeed at change – there may be skills you need to develop, or new information you must acquire. But that’s not psychological capacity. The psychological capacity that’s needed is the capacity to succeed at every step of the change process. Even when it gets unbearably frustrating. Especially when you keep failing. It’s the grit that keeps you in the saddle, but it’s much more than grit. We have a term for this psychological capacity – it’s called ‘change fitness’. To succeed at change, people need enough change fitness to meet the persistent and challenging demands of the change process.

And then we come to the ‘change process’. Every time an organisation makes a change, it participates in the change process. For every change project an organisation embarks on, success means one thing – it means successfully completing every step of the change process. There is no other way to succeed. So, change readiness is not about being ready to begin a change project; it’s about being ready to succeed at every step of the change process. If you’re not ready to do that, you’re not ready for change and you’re not likely to succeed.

It is important to highlight this point; the readiness framework relates to the readiness to succeed at the change process. We’re talking about the deep, underlying structure of change. If an organisation doesn’t have the readiness to succeed at the deep structure of change, it isn’t ready for change. There is much more to be said about this, and this article is not the place to explore this at any depth. However, understand that readiness is always readiness for something, and change readiness is readiness for each and every step of the change process.

So, effective change leadership isn’t so much about utilising power or facilitating certain tasks. It’s more about helping stakeholders develop or exercise their capacity to succeed at every step of the change process, and managing the risks posed by the limitations of their capacity. 

The third issue is ‘will-ingness’ to engage in the change process. Even if a group of employees have the change fitness capacity to succeed at a change project, they also need to engage their will and offer their support and participation. So, change leadership is also about helping employees make the choice to support the change process, recognising they also have the power to resist. Therefore, the right kind of communication is important.

Redefining power

In the military framework, power is centralised. Change happens because employees are told to change. In the management framework, power is distributed. The change leader draws upon distributed power and facilitates a strategic pathway towards success. In the readiness framework, the focus is less on power and more on capacity, commitment, and the deep structure of the change process. This is shown in Table 1.

Table 1: The Three Frameworks

Military Framework

Management Framework

Readiness Framework

Power is centralised

Power is distributed

Power is distributed

 

 

Capacity, commitment, and the change process are more important than power.

 

 

The greatest power is the power to create readiness for change

Successful organisational change means engaging successfully in every step of the change process. It depends upon employees’ capacity to succeed at each step of the change process, change leaders’ capacity to lead them towards success at each step of the change process, employees’ willingness to engage and remain committed to each step of the change process, and change leaders’ capacity to communicate in ways that engage that commitment.

The real power of the change leader in the readiness framework is the power to create readiness for change. Creating readiness for change means creating readiness for all employees to succeed at each step of the change process. And successful change is only likely when readiness for change is maximised.

What you can do

You might be wondering how to achieve this readiness. We provide a structured pathway to help you do this, and this pathway begins with information. Before you can work a readiness framework, you first need to understand what you’re trying to do.

We offer two, one-day online training programs to help you understand what you need to know and what you need to do. You can learn more about the first of these programs here.

In conclusion, I propose that the readiness framework offers a developmental improvement on the management framework. It recognises that power is distributed throughout the organisational system and that change leaders should facilitate certain tasks. In this way, it includes the management framework. But it also extends beyond it, recognising that organisational change is deeply rooted in the change process and people must be ready to engage in and succeed at every step of that process. And that changes what change leaders do. They should facilitate the emergence of change readiness, strategically deploy that readiness, and scaffold weaknesses presented by limitations in that readiness. We believe the readiness framework has much to offer organisations in this age of continual change.

Written by Dr Steve Barlow

How to Create Successful Change

By |2019-09-22T08:10:48+11:00September 19th, 2019|Categories: Change Readiness, Leadership, Managing Change, Programs, Resistance|

In 2010, McKinsey reported the findings of a huge study involving more than 315,000 respondents. They found that 75% of organisations were experiencing change and that 70% of change initiatives were regarded as unsuccessful.

Hundreds of other studies corroborate the 70% failure rate statistic. This statistic is often cited in the change management community as a reason to engage change management professionals as change leaders. But the problem is that the 70% statistic has remained stable for decades, even though change management principles form part of many graduate and post-graduate leadership programs. Maybe the message is not getting through to the right people. Or, in our view, there’s something wrong with the message itself.

Others totally debunk the 70% statistic. Claiming to be ‘superior’ change managers, they apparently experience success in most of the change initiatives they lead. This could, possibly, be realistic – theirs may be among the 30% of change projects that succeed. But it could also be a matter of pride: we all like to think we are successful.

But let’s not get too hung up on the 70% statistic. It is probably dependent on how things are measured and how reasonable initial expectations were. My interest in this article is not on the 70% figure, but on the perceptions of why organisational change fails or succeeds. I want to outline three reasons that are often cited.

The employees are the issue

McKinsey found that employee resistance to change was identified as the single biggest cause of change failure. If change fails, management often blames employees for having bad attitudes, for resisting change, and for disengaging from the process. Just when they should have been involved, they got negative and didn’t want to play ball.

Sometimes this is true and sometimes it isn’t. Maybe employees resisted for good reasons. But here’s the point – change leadership shouldn’t be about obedience – forcing people to do what they’re told.  It should be about developing readiness for change.

And let’s not just focus on failure. Employees are an organisation’s greatest asset and any change that succeeds does so, in large part, because of support from employees.

The leaders are the issue

Change managers may be delighted with or disappointed with the level of support they receive from senior leaders. Unfortunately, change can fail even though employees support it and skilled change managers lead it. It can fail if senior management pulls back their support for the change – they lose motivation or incentive, or simply under-resource it. Strong and continued support from senior leaders is essential for the success of any change initiative.

The change managers are the issue

Professionally trained change managers rightly take pride in the knowledge and skills they have worked hard to develop over many years. Many change projects underperform due to a lack of such leadership.

But as important as change management is, success requires more than good management. Management can only take you so far – managers can’t make the changes only the employees can make. So, there needs to be a readiness on the part of employees to support the change and engage with the process from beginning to end. And there also needs to be cultural readiness to support and sustain the change.

The landscape

Let’s look at the organisational landscape so far. It is a challenging landscape that offers many opportunities to fall short. Will the employees support the change, and do they have to capacity to succeed at every step of the change process? Will senior leaders maintain a strong commitment for the change at every step of the process? Do change managers have the knowledge and skills to deliver a successful outcome? And will the culture support and sustain the change long-term?

Look at those questions. Some relate to support and commitment – the enactment of the will to support rather than oppose change. And some relate to capacity. Even if people willingly support and engage in the change project, they also need the psychological capacity to meet the challenging demands of every step of the change process – the capacity to keep going when they are tired and confused and everything inside them wants to quit.  And they also relate to the capacity of change managers to follow an evidence-based process, to unlock the potential of the team, and to manage risks posed by the team’s limitations. This mix of will and capacity are aspects of an organisation’s change readiness. And there are other important ingredients in that mix as well.

Readiness incorporates power, capacity, and will. Organisations are not ready for change if their people are not willing to exercise their power to support change and if they don’t have the capacity to succeed at the change process. Change readiness is readiness to succeed at the change process – not just readiness to begin. Sure, that’s important too, but what’s the value of being ready to start if you’re not also ready to succeed?

The 70% failure statistic carries a serious warning – 100% of organisations surveyed started a change project, but only 30% were ready to succeed. I am reminded of the 2015 Optus study that found just 27% of Australian businesses are ready for change. Look, who wants to be one of the 70% of businesses that are ready to fail at change? Where’s the honour in that? And why would you even want that when you can do so much to become ready to succeed?

How to create successful change

Change is inherently risky because it’s easier to fail at things than to succeed. Success depends on doing a few things right but there are many roads that lead to failure. So, why should people expect to succeed when they’re not ready to succeed? That’s not being positive, that’s being unrealistic.

Here’s the point of this article – the real power of change leaders lies in their power to create change readiness. Organisations that are ready to succeed are much more successful than others that aren’t ready. That’s not rocket science; that’s common sense.

So, if you want to learn how to create change readiness in your organisation, the easiest way is to join one of our 1-day, online training programs. We specialise in personal change fitness and organisational change readiness and we can lead you into greater awareness of what’s involved. Start with our ‘From Resistance to Readiness’ training. You can learn more about it here.

There’s a lot you can do to get ready for success. And that road begins with knowledge. So, join in the training and let’s build some readiness for change.

Written by Dr Steve Barlow

Move Beyond Your Comfort Zone

By |2019-09-03T16:22:05+11:00September 3rd, 2019|Categories: Change Fitness|

Flames pushed at the cold and dark as they eagerly devoured the campfire. In a ring around the fire, I sat with a group of friends. Behind us, the blackness stretched into the unknown. But in the midst of this circle of light and warmth, we shared a place of safety.

Across the circle, the fire danced on the shadowy outline of my friends. We shared this common moment, warmed by the fire and reassured by the light.

But then, from somewhere out there, in the blackness, came a blood-curdling shriek. Eyes quickly turned and a dark fear fell on the circle. Then, out of nowhere, something large and black swooped over our heads and disappeared back into the night. Time for bed.

This story is true; it happened to me when I was young. But a similar story happens to people all the time. It has probably even happened to you too.

I want to show you a picture. Here it is.

comfort zone

This is a picture of that campfire, only this time you are at the centre. The blue circle represents your comfort zone. In our story, this is the circle of friends who faced the warmth and light of the fire, with the darkness at their backs.

This comfort zone is a place of relative ease and security. It represents all those things in your world that are familiar to you. To some extent, you know how to navigate this area. There is a degree of warmth here, and you can see where you are.

But there is another zone behind you, or perhaps in front of you. This is your zone of potential (shown here in magenta). In our story, this zone is represented by the darkness at your back.

This zone of potential is a dark and foreboding place, and it takes courage to venture out there. Many people never do venture into this zone. It is a place of fear. It is the unknown – the concealed. The unexplored. The yet-to-be-discovered.

But, in various ways, it beckons. Sometimes it reaches into your comfort zone, swooping for your attention. It calls you to face your fear and to explore. Because, in some fearful way, you belong there.

These are times when your potential makes itself known. You get a momentary glimpse of what is possible for you. It coaxes you to come and follow, to explore, and to uncover.

But this is a call into darkness, away from the warmth and light of the fire. And it’s a call that, sadly, many people never heed.

I know something about you. You have lots of potential – far more than you realise. But to claim it, you must move out of your zone of comfort and into your zone of potential. And you must stay there. Gradually, your comfort zone will expand, but then your zone of potential may expand along with it.

I’ll tell you one reason why so many people never venture into their zone of potential. It’s because their change fitness isn’t what it should be. The limit of their comfort zone represents the limit of their change fitness.

So, if you ever stare out into the darkness and wonder who might be out there, I’ll tell you. It’s you. It’s the you you have the potential to become. It’s waiting for you to come and find it. Do you have to courage to do that?

Build your change fitness and discover a bigger you.

Written by Dr Steve Barlow