The journey starts

“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:

  1. 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”;
  2. 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;
  3. 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.

Will you join me in this journey?

We all know that change is hard, but we don’t know enough about why it is so hard and what we can do about it

From the book “Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization (Leadership for the Common Good)” by Robert Kegan, Lisa Laskow Lahey

In my last post, I posed a question that has been bothering me in the last years: why do we fail? We often know what to do, instead we fail to do it. Take as an example implementing a change in an organization. We all know how communication is a key success factor, and yet we often do not communicate enough or we do not craft the messages in the right way (or so many other communication mistakes we make…). SAP implementation is another great example. Even when you stumble into what is considered a good success case, you will find it has had many problems. Most cases, however, are not successful stories. They are horror stories! And people have done it many times, over and over. Or a more common example of our lives: despite knowing what it takes to lose weight, we all agree how difficult it is to actually lose weight, right?

Let´s take this back to the business world. If you are a leader or aspires to be one, I bet you probably read books on leadership. Most business people do. It´s a way of knowing the big discussions out there, provoke thoughts and help you identify ways of becoming a better leader. Not to mention that you want to have what to discuss with your peers in the meetings and seminars where you meet (that is, if not for the best reasons, at least you read these books because you want to look smart, which is fine).

The truth is that these books offer very good insights about what leadership is and how we can all become great leaders. We read them, so we should know about what it takes and what to do, right? Yet, we do not find these great leaders in abundance out there. Answer with honesty: are companies full of great leaders or “not so great” leaders (to avoid saying “bad leaders”)?

Therefore, the question persists: What prevents us from making it happen?

I will devote my next posts to explore this question. It is not a simple one and I do not intend to fully solve it. It just happens that I find this discussion more helpful than just bringing new insights about theories and things we all seem to know. I hope you find this debate interesting too and decide to stick with me in this journey, for weekly discussions. See you in my next post.

Simple, yet frustrating

Gremlins

A new article by McKinsey, just published, informed:

Transformational change is still hard, according to a new survey. But a focus on communicating, leading by example, engaging employees, and continuously improving can triple the odds of success.

Read the McKinsey article here

In this same article, they emphasize:

Focus on people, not the project. Transformations are about the people in the organization as much as they’re about the initiatives.

So my question for you is: how complicated is this? It sounds obvious and simple and it appears to be quite easy, right? If an organization is going to change something big, communicating it right (to mention one of the basics) seems so important and easy to do.

But we all fail.

I have failed myself. I was the change management leader of a major transformational project, and despite all the methodology I knew, we failed; I failed. The implementation was just like most other system implementations, where most people are not really prepared, the system presents lots of problems and bugs, it took longer and cost more, and people do not understand why “on Earth” they went through all this headache. Eventually things become better and the benefits to the business show, but the change process was painful and lasted longer than needed. I could not say it was what we promised.

Why is it so difficult then to put into practice what we read in the books? I remember reading so many good tips about how to handle a change management process. I was even certified! But I must admit t is frustrating to see that the real world is so different.

Sheldon (from Big Bang Theory) once said he doesn´t like to watch Gremlins (the film), because the rules are so simple (e.g. do not feed them after midnight) and yet at the end there are lots of Gremlins all over terrifying the village. “How difficult is that?” he says with great frustration.

Most people will say it is difficult because we are talking about people. Others will say it is difficult because it requires everyone in the organization to share the same intention. But at the end of the day, we are all these same people, aren´t we?

Simple, yet frustrating.

I do not think we have reached the real root causes.

All I know is that I don´t know. What about you? What do you think?

I will stop here, and leave it as food for thought.