Is the degree of success in change management a function of the organisation's purpose?
In my capacity as a psychologist, I lean towards a clear yes and no. This blog post was sparked by an email from a reader expressing curiosity about change management in institutions such as faith-based organisations, trade unions and environmental organisations. However, I believe the question applies to any organisation with engaged employees.
Starting with the “no”, we can turn to article The Road To Commitment. Reading it, we realize that successful change involves people:
Intellectually understanding the reasons for change
Emotionally embracing the change
Being co-creators in the change process
These points apply regardless of the organisation's purpose. And while we’re on the generic track, I'd like to draw attention to a pitfall: Change leaders may underestimate the importance of allowing people to go through these three stages in an orderly fashion. Even if the information about the change is clear and edifying, a mix of worry and speculation will still arise among those involved. In such a state of mind, there's a risk that less favourable narratives will emerge. There are ways to minimize this, which I will get back to after we have explored the “yes” in the introduction of this post:
In this Swedish book which fortunately has been translated into English we find the telling headline When the self becomes the job. Below that, we can read: “If we identify too deeply with our professional role and competence, we risk losing a healthy distance from work.” That notion is probably not less true in the context of people driven by a conviction about something greater than themselves, such as the environment, a political belief, or a belief in God. To avoid misunderstandings, I'm not saying that everyone, or even most people, in such contexts lack a healthy distance. However, given my experience, I think the proportion of people with an emotional investment in their jobs, is larger.
As long as we discuss in general terms, I think such a person would agree with me when I state the importance of clarifying, for example, purposes and goals as well as roles and mandates. But when we move to discussing what this means in the person’s immediate reality, I can see a potential challenge in finding the intersection between the organisation's purpose and their personal purpose. If we return to the book Taking up your role, we see how this could be put to the test in times of change: “When the external world demands that the professional role needs to change, it can lead to an experience of personal offense over something that is not directed at us as individuals.” What the change entails might be too different in relation to the deeply felt conviction I mentioned above, especially when it is paired with strongly felt ideas of what needs to be done, and how.
So, to bring my yes and no together: No, there is no fundamental difference, but with inspired people, it probably becomes even more important to let them process the information and help them find the intersection. You need to be skilled in addressing concerns, speculations, and objections.
If, with the tips from the previous links, you can help people intellectually understand and emotionally embrace the change, the icing on the cake is using this tool. In doing so, you increase the probability of turning employees into co-creators and thus achieve an inspired change process.
The clients who reach out to me are managing directors, management teams, and executives who want to realise the potential in their organisations and accomplish extraordinary results. They reach out to me because of my ability to transform individuals, teams, and organisations.