An odd title I know! You would think that the terms ‘humanistic’ (if there is such a word?) and ‘change’ go hand it hand, so why would I choose to focus on exploring their connection.
Well, as I reflected upon the year of changes that have taken place within our Client organisations and as a contributing Author to our new eBook – 44 Ways to Take Your People With You, I continued to ask myself the question: “Why is change so confounding?”. Research still points to as many as one in three transformation efforts failing to deliver anticipated benefits. Despite the increasing array of research, models and education available on the topic of change, for the past few decades, the statistics and perceptions around change remain, well…unchanged.
I believe the answer lies in the title of this post.
All change management thinking points us to a very logical and rational set of methods and tools to define, plan and execute the transformation. These models are all pretty much saying the same thing, so there is nothing particularly complex or scientific about this guidance – it all makes sense. Then there is the question of experience in how this is all applied in a real environment with many moving parts, politics and complexities. And yes, often there is an element of capability gap in how the approach is applied, which leads to the change being successful or not. But I still don’t think that is the root cause either. My view is that the humanistic element of change is what almost always gets missed.
Yes, it feels like a paradoxical view, but I observe that there is so much focus on the rational side of change and following the logical steps of designing and delivering it, that most organisations overlook the irrational side of it all. After all what we are trying to change is behaviour, attitudes and ways of working (regardless of whether the change is a new organisation model, a new strategy or developing a new business). So with behaviour and attitudes comes a huge element of irrationality and this is what doesn’t get factored in when designing and executing large scale changes.
Despite the logic and rational arguments behind any of these changes, you aren’t just going to go ahead and make the change unless you have been given the time and space to input to the idea and the plan to support it.
Let’s take this back to change at a ‘personal level’ just for a minute. Imagine changes such as: giving up smoking; losing weight; eating more healthily; exercising 4 times a week. Despite the logic and rational arguments behind any of these changes, you aren’t just going to go ahead and make the change unless you have been given the time and space to input to the idea and the plan to support it right? And part of that time and space is allowing yourself the chance to reject the idea, mull it over, think about the best way of approaching it etc.
So now let’s apply this to the organisational context and let’s focus on just one element of change: creating a compelling story. Every change management guru and every change management model will tell you that a successful transformation is underpinned by such compelling story, ensuring the ‘community’ feel the need for the change and see where the change is heading. I don’t think anyone would dispute this and you see many an organisational change programme going to great lengths to establish a communication plan and rally around a common vision and need for the change. However, when these rational managers implement the pre scripted approach, what gets disregarded are certain, sometimes irrational – but predictable – elements of human nature. Let’s consider the following.
Does your change story consider what motivates leaders, managers AND employees?
Very often change stories focus only on the impact to company and shareholders. Sometimes the customer gets a genuine mention! However, how often do you hear of a vision and need that includes anything about the positive impact for society or the working team or “me”? Whilst communicating business need/opportunity is a given in any attempt to ignite a transformation, bringing in the humanistic element by considering what motivates the people that will need to help execute or embed the change is what turns an intuitively rational story into one that creates positive energy by tapping into likely motivators.
"Get to know the personalities you are dealing with so you can determine how to best communicate and influence.”*
Does your communication approach give you enough opportunity to really listen?
With the best of intentions, companies and their leaders invest significantly in communicating their change story. Typically there is a schedule of roadshows, webinars, email communications, posters and the like. Again, this is all rational and whilst the story certainly needs to get out there, I wonder how much more ownership would be felt if even half of that same energy was spent listening rather than telling. Many experiments prove that when us humans have an element of choice we are far more committed to the outcome. However, the pace of change in most organisations is such that it feels easier to just tell and expect people to buy into it rather than let people discover for themselves.
"Put yourself in the shoes of those that are resisting. You will be amazed at what you will discover.”*
Is your communication too positive?
It might feel controversial to entertain the thought that change communications should be anything but positive and optimistic. However, having some more balance in the tone and content is useful when it comes to spurring behavioural change. A mix of “what’s wrong here?” and “imagine what might be” can create a healthy dose of both anxiety and inspiration.
"Make small commitments to those that are hindering the change and be transparent about successes and failures. Show your authenticity … it will win them over.”*
*All quotes are credit to Stefan Bloechinger, a valued member of our Professional Network.
One of the problems with change management, is the phrase ‘management’. It implies that change is engineered and that it can be managed. But many elements of true large scale transformation cannot be pre-determined. Human nature gets in the way. Trying to manage it doesn’t fully harness energy and commitment thereby limiting the solution space and overall impact. By contrast, change becomes more natural and organic when individuals have a platform that allows them to participate – rational and irrational!
During December, my organisation and I collaborated with a variety of professionals – clients, acquaintances and team members. They all contributed to our creation of the eBook "44 Ways to Bring Your People With You”, our ebook that has a specific focus on the ‘humanistic’ element of change. I encourage you to dip into it and draw your own inspiration on how you can foster a real-time, socially constructed approach to change within your own organisation.