Conventional wisdom suggests that leading organizational change is hard. Many people (myself included) have argued that people do not like change, and are inclined to resist it. The idea is that we do not like the chaos and risk that change often brings, nor the need to figure out a new organization structure, “break-in” a new boss, or have to learn all kinds of new things. All this typically adds up to a lot of added work, with an uncertain benefit.
I recently came across this thoughtful presentation piece, by Michael Kanazawa which argues that People Don’t Hate Change, They Hate How You’re Trying to Change Them. (Kanazawa is a former strategy guy who also wrote a book called BIG Ideas to BIG Results: Remake and Recharge Your Company, Fast. Perhaps his most impressive credential is that when he once worked for a large California telecommunications company, he was a “cubicle neighbor” of Scott Adams – the creator of the popular Dilbert comic strip. (We can only imagine the kinds of conversations these guys must have shared).
Anyway, if you follow the presentation link, here are some of the key points:
1) We all know we need to change – we’re not stupid. We all know, intellectually, that the world is a rapidly changing, and we have to learn to adapt ourselves, or be prepared to suffer the consequences including failure and organizational “death”. We all know change is part of life, and we are willing to do so, and can implement exciting new ideas – when we want to.
Kanazawa argues that, like in many things it’s all about how you go about it that matters. Here are some of the mistakes he cautions against.
2) Never use the argument “we need to do more with less”. This is a common argument used by managers in business advocating the need to review, refine and revamp processes. We are all “sick and tired” of working in an environment where our budgets and head counts are reduced, but management expects us to accomplish everything that was previously on our plates. Work smarter, not harder – is the mantra, but if spoken in the wrong context can be infuriating because it places the burden mainly on us to figure out how to deal with the problem.
Kanazawa suggests, instead this alternative – “Do More ON Less”. The idea here is that often times, we can be far more effective by choosing to focus our energies on the fewer important things that can make the largest difference. When leaders are unable and unwilling to make choices and set priorities – they are really abdicating their leadership responsibility.
3) Stop telling people they need to “buy in”. This is another over used phrase and ill-conceived behavior. Here is the scenario – a relatively small group of managers (often aided by external consultants) figure out a great new solution to some problem. They then see that they have to get the rest of us to “buy-in” to this new solution, and approach it as if it were a sales job – convincing us why we should see their solution as correct and brilliant. The alternative strategy is to engage more of us earlier in the process of problem solving and solution creating. Yes, it may take a little more effort and time, but sometimes slower is really faster.
4) Be a leader who is not all about yourself. Yes we do generally teach that leaders are supposed to be about creating vision and direction. That does not mean however, that you are expected to do this alone, and in a vacuum. You do not need to have all the answers yourself. You DO own the process for creating a sense of purpose and direction, but it is a process that needs to involve others. Great leaders talk with their employees, and insure that they are involved in assessing situations, and in developing solutions. That does not mean it is always arrived at by a purely democratic process. As the “boss” we expect you to make certain final decisions. We just need to know that you listened to us and considered our ideas.
He ends his piece with this thought – which I feel is quite profound. He calls on leaders to embrace this particular mind-set. “If you believe that people hate change and that it is your job to change them, they will hate it. If you believe that people thrive on change and that your job is to unleash it, you will tap into a limitless source of ingenuity, energy and drive that will allow you to consistently take your big ideas into big results.”