Change management strategies stand at the pivotal point between successful change and failure. Let’s look at this more closely by considering a few things about pivotal points.

A see-saw has a pivotal point in the centre. But in a see-saw, this pivotal point is static. It exerts no significant influence on the outcome (apart from friction). Whether one side goes up or down depends almost entirely on what happens at the other end.

But other situations contain pivotal points that are much more dynamic and influence outcomes in an active way. Take the example of a lion-tamer.

The lion-tamer stands at a pivotal point. On one side is a powerful beast with the potential to kill. On the other side is a successful show and a crowd of cheering, satisfied spectators.

The lion-tamer stands in the middle. No matter what he does the situation is always going to be dangerous. However, he can manage the risk by adopting the following strategies:

  •  Careful and continual assessment of the situation. The tamer looks carefully at every move the lion makes, studies his gaze, judges his intention. One mis-read could cost him his life.
  •  Maintaining full control over his own actions. One lapse of attention, one sudden, threatening, or unpredictable move could be fatal.
  •  Using the right tools at the right time. The whip and chair are potentially threatening and could provoke an attack if not used carefully. But in the hands of a skilled person, they allow the tamer to predict and direct the lion’s behaviour.
  •  Creating and maintaining a secure culture. The lion and the tamer are engaged in a kind of performance that they have both done before, and, hopefully, will both do again. There are patterns in this performance that have been well-rehearsed and add an element of security to this dangerous situation.

None of the above makes the situation any less risky. The lion-tamer stands at the pivotal point between uncontrolled mayhem and ecstatic applause.

Change management strategies also stand at a pivotal point. On one side is the change capacity of the team or organisation, and on the other side is an uncertain outcome. Whether the capacity translates into success or failure pivots around the strategies adopted by the change management team.

There are many variables here and not all of them can be controlled. But it is important to develop strategies that control and direct those variables that can be managed. The change management team have access to the same four strategies used by the lion-tamer. They must carefully assess and monitor the strengths and threats inherent in the context. They must monitor their own behaviours and practise what they preach. They must use the right tools at the right time, and they must maintain a secure culture.

Here is an important point to understand about change readiness. Most people probably think it refers to a management practice – getting the team prepared for change. It doesn’t. It has to do with the change strengths and risks inherent in the team itself. It refers to a contextual variable. You can’t accurately assess the nature of the context without assessing the change readiness of your team.

There is sometimes opportunity for the change management team to tweak some variables to enhance the change readiness of the team in the short term – the low hanging fruit idea. But for the most part there is no ‘quick fix’ for low levels of change readiness. So, here’s the most important bit of this article: your strategies must allow your change strengths to shine and at the same time compensate for the risks imposed by your team’s change weakness.

If you can’t do much (in the immediate situation) about your change readiness, you can still do something about your strategies. The best thing you can do is to have your strategies accurately reflect your change capacity.

Somewhere down the track there will be roars of discontent or roars of applause. The better your strategies reflect the change capacity of your key stakeholders, the more likely you are to hear roars of applause at the end of the day.

Dr Steve Barlow