Blog Series #2: Transformational Change: Appreciating Change
Reframing organisational change into a positive, healthy, and natural part of work
In my last blog, I introduced the idea that if organisations are seeking #transformationalchange, they must address organisational culture in order to enable this transformation. Many people who have led or been a part of change know how difficult this can be. However, it doesn’t have to be. Change can be more energising, humane, and fun. Done the right way, with patience and compassion, I introduced 7 key attributes that must be part of your organisational change agenda in order to thrive. This blog expands on idea # 1 – even if your organisation’s culture is toxic, you must start from a place of appreciation.
Why is it so important to start here?
Firstly, your organisation has survived, maybe even thrived, until this point. Something about your culture has created a level of success. Take a moment to really reflect on and understand why your culture is what it is, clarify what cultural elements should be appreciated and preserved, and only then start to identify what cultural elements are not serving this organisation anymore. Giving time and attention to making a clear and informed decision on what to let go of is extremely valuable in recognising that the culture isn’t “bad”; it may have bad elements in it that have creeped in over time but inherently there is no such thing as a bad culture.
Secondly, oftentimes change signals to people that what they’ve been doing or how they’ve been showing up is “wrong.” However, organisations sometimes fail to recognise that something in their context or environment has changed, which is driving this need to transform. Helping to reinforce people’s confidence in their own abilities through a period of change while also being very clear and specific about which behaviours and mindsets need to change will help people clarify what skills are valued and what new skills need to be developed.
Thirdly, taking an appreciative stance is critical because we cannot change under stress. Our fight or flight senses are hypervigilant to the dangers of this unknown change already. Taking an appreciative stance around what is working, what to preserve, and what skills are still valued will help to calm people so that they can more fully engage in the change. When our nervous systems aren’t stressed, we’re in a much better space to learn, take risks, and move out of our comfort zones.
Finally, reframe the change. I was facilitating a workshop with a client going through a business transformation recently. We had a group of 20 leaders in the room, and there was a clear sense of change fatigue in the room. People were tired of talking about change and stressed about their current workloads and how they’d be able to manage and lead through the change on top of their day jobs. So early on we established a critical reframe to the change – calling it “organisational evolution”. This may sound simple, but this reframe was critical for leaders to integrate the proposed changes into their way of operating rather than looking at it as a completely separate piece of work. The word “evolution” also signaled that this was a natural progression in the organisation’s history that allowed them to keep moving forward.
Where most orgs get stuck
I see organisations get stuck in starting from a place of appreciation in two very clear ways:
1. We are wired to focus on problems. We often lose sight of what is good and working. We’d rather cut to the chase and articulate the problem we are trying to solve. This is a huge sticking point, because once we name a problem, most people will rush to solutions, which short cuts the change process and the other 6 attributes in my last blog. And while the solutions seem clear, they are most often not because the problems we end up solving are only surface level.
2. We want to be decisive so we take an all or nothing approach. I was working with a client that was trying to drive cultural change. They were trying to shift to a more empowering culture, built on trust and collaboration. However, their approach to getting their people on board wasn’t fully engaging the workforce. Even with all the right intentions, these leaders are getting impatient with their people, and the change began to adopt a mindset and mantra of “you’re either on the bus or off the bus”. This mindset was detrimental as it was unconsciously enabling leaders to decide on who they thought were on or off the bus. Once those unconscious decisions were made, they stopped being able to wholeheartedly engage with people who were struggling with the change, and those struggling became less forthcoming with airing their concerns.
So now with what you know, what can you start to do? Here’s a few ideas to try out based on whatever transformation you are trying to drive:
1. Make a list of the cultural attributes you believe contribute to your culture and the transformation you are trying to undertake. Now make a separate list of the cultural attributes that are hindering you from transformation. Try to be specific and translate these into observable behaviours . Now do the same thing with the key skills. Once you have a list of key skills that remain important and new skills that will become important, set out a plan on how you will help your workforce build these new skills
2. If the word “ change” is triggering your workforce, consider a reframe. Clients have used words like “transition”, “evolution”, “journey”, “progression”. Not sure how to reframe it? Simply ask your workforce. Much of the time in the work I do, these reframes come directly from the client to address the very real change fatigue that they are facing. And oftentimes, these reframes signal a positive move forward.
3. Adopt the mantra of “everyone is on the bus, until they decide they don’t want to be.” This gives people the freedom and agency to decide how they feel about the change and whether they are willing and able to change. This allows for a more compassionate and realistic approach to helping people through change. Of course, there will be times when leaders have to make difficult decisions on employees who are deliberately trying to sabotage the change so being clear around people who are struggling with the change vs. people who don’t want to change is very important.
Have you tried any of the above out? Please leave your insights and comments below, and stay tuned for blog #3 which will address “Sense-making as a key part of defining and enabling change”.