“There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.” by Machiavelli, The Prince (1532)
Let´s start with a quick refresh: as I was discussing about how to implement change, the most intriguing question I see in this debate is “What prevents us from making it happen?”
The list that follows is not a complete one, but there I present the top suspects I see and which most literature talks about. Three seems to be a good number. So here are the top 3 reasons that prevent us from being successful when managing change:
- Wrong diagnosis: we often underestimate the change and do not understand how big it can actually be. We treat the change as a “technical” problem when it may be an “adaptive one”;
- Immunity to change: we are humans and are built to resist change because of the perceived dangers and risks. It is a natural reaction. The problem is that we fail to tackle this resistance the right way;
- Lack of true leader´s sponsorship: our leaders are not fully equipped to take on their role in a transformational process.
On top of those, there are so many other “classical” mistakes that can take place. A typical one is when the change is not perceived as important and urgent. This lack of a clear need for change makes it difficult from the beginning. It is not possible to imagine how anyone could devote their time and energy to a change project that has no clear reason for existing in the first place. In fact, creating the sense of need and urgency is the first step of Kotter’s 8-Step Process for Leading Change, which is a very comprehensive model about how to manage change.
All the 3 issues I mentioned above in my list are not easy ones to solve, because they are the least rational parts of managing change. Take for example Kotter´s first step or the first step of Prosci methodology (“build awareness of the change”). It may be a lot of work but we can come up with a communication plan to build awareness. The process is quite simple: we map the impacted stakeholders, understand their main concerns and develop the messages that have to be delivered, stating when, how and by whom. It looks very rational and logical. But do we truly understand how this change will impact the people? Do we know our people well enough to comprehend their resistance? Do our leaders have their peoples´s best interest as a priority? Or are they prepared to deal with the change by themselves? This is where it becomes really problematic.
Rational may be a tough and complicated task and may require efficiency, intelligence and other attributes for one to succeed. But when we are dealing with non-rational, when emotions are involved, we are at a whole different playing field.
This is where the rubber meets the road.