When seeking to manage organisational change, it is important to identify and leverage your strengths. A useful methodology to use is a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats). In this article, I want to consider two areas of individual differences that could inform a SWOT analysis, and how those differences could be leveraged.
Individuals can be different in many ways. There are ethnic and cultural differences, differences in training and education, gender differences, differences in roles and access to information, and differences in capacity, to name a few. I want to consider two of these differences – differences in capacity to succeed at the change process (change fitness) and differences in tradition and perspective.
High change fitness
People differ in how much change fitness they have. Some people thrive on change – they love the challenge of learning new things, having new experiences, being pushed to their limits and beyond, and exploring new areas of reality. These people reflect the attitude of Richard Branson: “If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!” Such people are a wonderful asset during times of change because they are up for the challenge and ready to learn how to make it work. It is unfortunate there are not more of these people about. In fact, they can be rather hard to find.
Low change fitness
Most people are less enthusiastic about change. I have a friend who was offered a truly amazing opportunity but turned it down. He came up with some reasons to say no, but he still missed out on a great opportunity. Many people are limited by their fears, their lack of vision, their uncertainty, their unwillingness to commit, their scepticism, their self-doubt, and their low expectation of success. It is not so good to have these people when change is in the air. They will be hard to convince, afraid of what change could mean for them and their jobs, disengaged, and likely to resist. There’s not much enthusiasm for jumping in and learning how to do it later.
These are significant individual differences – one side makes it easier to succeed and the other side makes it easier to fail. And, of course, there are many shades of grey in the middle. So, how can you leverage the strengths and minimise the weaknesses?
First, you need to identify where those strengths and weaknesses lie. This means you need to conduct a change fitness assessment. What strengths can you leverage among your stakeholders and in what part of the change process can these strengths be most useful? How can you apply them during specific tasks and applications? How should they inform the composition of work teams? How can you best utilise your strengths in the change management team? And you should use the change fitness assessment to ensure you don’t have people with low levels of change fitness making important decisions or being given the power to block important decisions and tasks.
You can leverage your change fitness strengths if you understand what they are and how they contribute to successful outcomes. And you can also leverage your change management processes to minimise the change fitness weaknesses in your team. Sure, it will mean more work for your managers as they scaffold areas of weakness, but leveraging strengths to compensate for weaknesses is the best way of minimising the potential negative effects of those weaknesses.
The second kind of individual difference you can leverage relates to differences in tradition and perspective. People from different backgrounds see things differently. For example, a change might look like a really good idea to a financial controller, but it might look like a terrible idea to an HR leader. They each look at the idea from different perspectives and see different things. What looks like a benefit to one looks like a liability to the other. Differences in perspective can be a source of conflict, but, if handled correctly, they can also be leveraged to gain a fuller understanding of an emergent reality.
How do you leverage them? By encouraging open communication, the sharing of ideas, by being tolerant of different points of view, by listening and taking them on-board and letting the reality of the context become apparent. Then making decisions, taking action, and repeating the process.
These are just some ways you can leverage individual differences during change. What other ideas work for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts and, if you want to learn more about how we measure change fitness, reach out to me.
Written by Steve Barlow