Do not let change management tie you up in knots
– It will cost millions and you will have to deal with the aftermath for years to come.
This ominous prophecy of mine came up in a conversation with a manager working in an organisation that is in the middle of a significant process of change. I made this prediction with a certain degree of emphasis in my voice. I have met far too many change leaders, project managers and managers who have become angry or discouraged to the point where they feel there is no other option than to resign. For them, this decision was an act of self-preservation. Let us see what we can learn from these situations.
In one assignment I was training project managers in change management whose frustration bordered to despair. Despite the fact that the project managers had the backing of the organisation's top managers, they told me they were being met with huge resistance (including out and out scorn) as they attempted to implement new initiatives in management teams at various levels of the organisation.
In another organisation I was coaching a manager who had an infected relationship with a change leader who she felt interfered in her team with the sensitivity of a bulldozer. To make things even more complicated, in both these organisations extensive workshops had been conducted that the managers felt had been meaningful. I also heard feedback from the vast majority of managers that the planned changes aimed for was positive. So how do we make sense of this?
My hypothesis is that when planning for the change, the powers that be had underestimated the strength of group dynamics and the issue of (perceived) loss of influence in both managerial and professional roles. These concerns hung over the situations like dark rain clouds. Closely linked to these concerns, there was also a lack of agreed responsibilities and mandates in two main areas.
The first area was that both processes would result in matrix organisations. Each manager was given a new role and the management teams were restructured. Each manager and management team had several new interfaces to deal with. In the policy documents I read, it was not difficult to see how everything was supposed to be connected. But translating those documents into reality was another matter entirely. I worked with several management teams where we spent a lot of time delving into seemingly obvious and basic questions such as who reported to who.
The second area involved the mandates in the change processes themselves. The project managers mentioned above responded with "yes, but…" to almost everything I proposed because they felt more or less powerless. Thinking on my feet I knew I needed to change the purpose of the assignment from giving the project managers tools for change management to working on how they could obtain a clear mandate from the management teams they were supposed to collaborate with.
For the manager who perceived her team was the victim of a bulldozer, I applied the method of contextualisation. Instead of taking the change leader's behaviour personally, I asked my client to look at the different contexts and roles that influenced the situation. The change leader was probably not a bulldozer who intended to run over my client. When the change leader took on his role, he probably felt he had a mandate that my client, in her managerial role, did not feel he had. Which dovetails nicely into the first example, where there was such huge resistance from the management teams.
So, in summary: Do not underestimate the power of group dynamics, nor questions concerning influence and how these might reinforce each other. Make areas of responsibility and mandates clear, regarding both the end product – the new organisation – and the change process itself. It is true to say that change management is difficult. But you do not need carelessness or ambiguity tying you up in knots.
If you are considering change in your organisation, you might want to carry out an analysis first. Here's a free guide for that purpose.
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