BACKSTORY TO THE CHANGE MANAGEMENT TOOLKIT

Steve Barlow

My name is Steve Barlow. I’m the creator of the Change Management Toolkit. I’d like to tell you some of the backstory and why I developed the Toolkit.

I used to work with inmates in a maximum-security jail. My role was to deliver anger management programs to inmates. Over 7 years I coached around 3000 men.

This experience taught me many things. I’d like to share two of the most important things I learned.

DO PROGRAMS CREATE CHANGE?

The first thing I learned was that offenders need to change, and correctional systems have programs that ‘work’. Inmates have problems and jails have solutions. Jails hire the right kind of professionals and have them deliver the right kind of programs to the people who most need them. I was hired to deliver anger management programs to people who committed violent crimes.

The first thing I learnt is that programs create change. I think this idea is found in many parts of society. I call this ‘THE PUSH’ approach.

THE PUSH

THE PUSH approach relies heavily on programs, professionals, and evidence-based practice. Some people see these as a ‘silver bullet’. The aim is for people to ‘get with the program’, to get ‘on-board’, and fully engaged at their relevant level.

Now, I have no problem with great programs, trained professionals, and everyone being engaged. Change is not likely to happen without these things.

But I do have a problem with the thinking that lies behind this approach.

Let me get back to my story and I will attempt to show you why I have a problem with the thinking.

I based my anger management programs on evidence-based practice, and I was appropriately qualified to deliver them. My client group consisted of 3000 people – quite a large sample. But I have a confession to make. Most of my programs were a failure most of the time. For most inmates who attended my program, it seemed to make no difference at all. Neither their attitudes nor behaviours changed much over time. For a smaller number of people, the program got them thinking and it seemed to have some impact. And for a very, very small number of cases, it made a huge impact. It was instrumental in transformational change.

Same program, same professional, same evidence-based practice, but very different results. The program I brought was important, but whatever it was the clients brought to the program seemed to make all the difference. My program ‘worked’ for some and was a total failure for others.

And not just my programs, but everyone’s programs. Despite the influence of the ‘What works’ research, around 70% of inmates return to jail. And it’s not just in jails this happens. In organisational change, programs have a similar rate of failure. So, despite nearly 80 years of research into organisational change, failure is still a common experience.

This got me thinking. What was it that clients brought to my programs that made them ‘work’? I wanted to understand more about what this was, so I enrolled in a PhD program and 6 years later I had some answers.

The inmates brought differing amounts of ‘change fitness’. Let me explain what I mean.

If you’re an offender, accustomed to a criminal lifestyle, ‘going straight’ is a difficult change to make. Perhaps there are occasions when you think about moving away from crime, and you may even make some steps to reform yourself, but it’s very difficult to change your ways. It means giving up things you’re used to; things that seem so normal and natural to you. It impacts your relationships. You must learn new ways of thinking, and discard some of your old, familiar ways of looking at the world. You must develop new habits, new ways of speaking, and new attitudes. If you’re not willing to change the stories inside your head and how you behave, you’re not going to change that much.

But all that is very, very hard to do. It requires lots and lots of change fitness to be successful. So, here’s the second lesson I learnt. Change fitness is what allows you to pull what you need out of the programs. If you don’t have enough change fitness, you’re not ready to pull out what you need to make change happen.

I call this approach THE PULL.

Change fitness is what allows you to pull what you need out of the programs.

THE PULL

THE PULL approach relies heavily on having, identifying, and leveraging the internal, personal change strengths (change fitness) that enable people to engage with change programs and pull value out of them. It relies upon and capitalises on the kind of readiness that empowers people to be successful at the change process. Without this kind of individual change readiness, change programs don’t work well on their own.

Here’s what THE PULL approach says:

  • good programs work best with people who have high levels of change fitness
  • people who handle change well (with high change fitness) pull programs towards them, whereas people with low change fitness feel threatened by change programs and push them away
  • change leaders should identify how much change fitness their people have and where the strengths lay
  • change leaders should leverage the change fitness strengths of their teams and scaffold the limitations

Now, don’t misunderstand me here. I’m not saying that we only need THE PULL.

THE PUSH AND THE PULL

You need the both. You need great programs, you need highly skilled and knowledgeable practitioners, and you need stakeholders with high change fitness. When you bring together all these elements you are more likely to be successful.

But there’s one additional lesson we should consider. Imagine managing change as though it were going to a drive-thru for dinner, so far we have ordered burgers and drinks, but we haven’t yet added the fries. What we need is THE WORKS.

THE WORKS

If you don’t get THE WORKS, it isn’t just a matter of not getting the fries. No, in the change space it’s much worse than that. Not only don’t you get the fries, but the burgers are cold and the drinks are tepid. The whole meal is spoiled.

In the organisational world, THE WORKS means great programs, skilled practitioners, change-fit stakeholders, and then you add to that delicious mix an organisational context that values and nurtures all that good stuff. This nurturing organisational context is what we call ‘organisational change readiness’. Organisations with high change readiness don’t just push programs on people: they actively help as many people as possible to pull value from these programs. Unlike less competitive organisations that are always ready to push programs on people, successful organisations are ready to develop great programs, up-skill change leaders, leverage the change fitness of stakeholders, and nurture THE PUSH-PULL relationship.  

The point is, if you don’t include organisational change readiness, you end up spoiling everything else you’ve got. But, when you bring it all together, you end up in the SUCCESS ZONE.

Organisations with high change readiness don’t just push programs on people: they actively help as many people as possible to pull value from these programs.

THE SUCCESS ZONE

The SUCCESS ZONE is where you want to be.

And we want to help you get there.

To that end, we have designed the Change Management Toolkit as a pathway that leads you towards the SUCCESS ZONE.

Parts of the pathway may be very familiar to you. Other parts will be new. But I am sure that if you follow the pathway, success will be easier to find.

And finally, before we go, there’s one extra dimension to discuss.

You might not realise it, but when we succeed at change, we follow a predictable process – we can think of it as a ‘success pattern’.

THE EXTRA DIMENSION

The Change Management Toolkit has one extra dimension of significance: the change process. We have known about how the change process works for over 40 years, so it’s quite surprising that it doesn’t get much airplay in most change management approaches.

And I believe that is a mistake. Why? Because the change process describes the natural flow of how humans successfully change things in their world. You might not realise it, but when we succeed at change, we follow a predictable process – we can think of it as a ‘success pattern’.

Following the pattern puts us at a distinct advantage.

Many people struggle with change partly because they don’t follow the pattern. But that’s not what we want to see. In this era of constant change, we can’t afford to struggle with change. But we want people to know what the pattern looks like and get good at following it.

That’s why the Change Management Toolkit is structured around the success pattern of change. It helps change leaders think in terms of the pattern, and it helps all other stakeholders become accustomed to the pattern.

So, let’s review what we have considered in this article.

REVIEW

I have tried to help you understand how I became aware of the limitations of THE PUSH approach and why THE PULL approach is needed. The reality is that both are needed.

Organisations should be ready to support this dynamic relationship, not simply ready to push programs onto people. And, finally, it’s important to structure the approach to change according to the natural flow of the change process.

The Change Management Toolkit brings all this together in one spot. 

We want to improve on what already exists. We don’t want to change those parts of the process that already work well, but we want to improve how programs work.

Thanks for staying with me on this long read. Please, reach out and share your ideas. I’d love to hear them.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Steve Barlow PhD has taught change management programs at the University of Tasmania, worked in personal change in the NSW correctional system, and is the author or co-author of 6 books. He has spoken on change at conferences around Australia and in Europe. He is a Director of The Change Gym, a company devoted to improving the knowledge and practice of change. He lives on the Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia.

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