Do not let change management tie you up in knots
Updated: Jul 13, 2021
– 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 relating to the change 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.
Regarding the manager who perceived her team was the victim of a bulldozer, I asked her to consider that the change leader most likely wouldn't define the situation as him being a bulldozer. More likely he was acting on the mandate he feels he has been given, a mandate the manager didn't recognise. Defining the situation as a clash between perceptions of mandate, it is possible to negotiate instead of taking the situation personally and being overwhelmed with frustration.
If you are considering change in your organisation, you might be interested in my free guides: Organisational development: Unleash the potential for improvement, as well as What they don't tell you about change menagement. You will find them here.
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