How the sea inspires a different way of managing change

How the sea inspires a different way of managing change

How the sea inspires a different way of managing change

In taking my vacations in Hawaii I thought I would start a series of Change Management articles inspired by my trip to Hawaii. For those who have not been to Hawaii or have only stayed around Waikiki, the Islands of Hawaii is quite astoundingly beautiful.  There is something magical about Hawaii that inspires the mind and soothes the soul. It’s welcoming people, amazingly jagged mountains, fantastic beaches, and sensational food is enough to bewitch any visitor.

As change or project managers we usually plan our approach in managing change from a top down perspective.  We look at what senior executives would like employees to change, how much change is required, what benefits would be achieved through change, and which parts of the organization would need to change.

There is the usual focus that change leadership is critical and that without strong senior sponsorship that the initiative will fail.  The senior leader is expected to have all the answers, to know exactly how to steer the employees towards an end state and be able to convince them the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ of the change.  On top of this, if there is any resistance, the leader needs to identify these and overcome them in order to successfully drive the change successfully.

This all sounds like the standard recipe for change success does it not?  So what is wrong with this?

Hawaii and leading change

When I was snorkelling in the North Shore of Oahu Island I was amazed at how much tropical fish I could see literally just metres from the beach.  In fact, as soon as I had put my head down I could see the various sizes of amazing tropical fish.  And the farther I go the more I notice at the abundance and variety of fish and coral around me.

When we surround ourselves purely with the top down approach of change, we start to develop a fixed mindset of how change should be done.  Most of change literature resolves around adopting a top down approach.  However, when we start to adopt a user mindset, an employee lense of change, we start to see things very differently.

The diversity of the ocean and the diversity of employees

Similar to the fish in the sea, there isn’t one type of employee.  There are many types of employees with varying interests, backgrounds and preferences. It is easy for us to interview employees through conducting surveys and declare that we are intimate with employee concerns.  However, in most situations there isn’t just one set of employee beliefs and concerns. Different employees have different concerns, just like in the ocean there is star fish, tetra, gold fish, carp, etc.

Whilst we cannot cater for every type of individual employee concerns and interests, it is also important to be able to see through impacted employees and what they are seeing.  I became amazed at the wonderful world under the sea and how colourful and stunning it really is.  If we really start to see through the different groups of employees, sense what they are sensing, we can really harness their power to drive change.

How do we leverage different employee groups in driving change

For example:

  • For employees who are change champions and early adopters – How do we harness their influence and positivity to quickly spread the word, and advocate for the change?
  • For those who have had bad change experiences in the past and are cynical and critical – How do we involve them closely to design the change process, so as to avoid any past mistakes and leverage to enhance success?
  • For those who were agnostic and did not either support or resist the change – How do we give them accountabilities to progress and promote the change
  • For those who strongly resist the change and actively counter against the change – How do we listen to them and address this head on.  And leverage the influence of other employee groups such as the change champions?
  • For those who tend to be overly cautious and do not feel confident when there is change – How do we actively identify them and spend more time to nurture their confidence, or leverage change champions to hand-hold them?

Dipping below the surface of what various senior stakeholder groups are looking for in change, we start to see a different picture of what employees see.  Let’s open our eyes to the various colours, shapes, and sizes of the attitudes, preferences and feedback of employees.  When we start to see the diversity of different types of employees and where they are at, we can then leverage them to better drive and position the change for success.

Disco, diversity and managing change

Disco, diversity and managing change

I recently went to a concert to see some of the super soul bands of the 70s and 80s including The Jacksons, Sister Sledge, The Village People and Pointer Sisters. In addition to funk and soul there was a big component of disco music as well. I started becoming more interested about the history of disco music and how it came about. According to Wikipedia, disco music emerged from the late 60s and 70s and started as a mixture of music from venues popular with African Americans, Hispanic and Latino Americans, Italian Americans and the LGBT. “Disco can be seen as a reaction to both the dominance of rock music and the stigmatisation of dance music by the counterculture during this period”.

This led me to think more about dominance of one idealism or concept over others and how limiting it is to only be able to operate with one concept, whether it be dancing or a way of working. I often hear in organizations that we should aim for ‘one-way, same-way’ to simplify things for people. Do we really think that one way of approaching something is the best for developing that particular capability? And do we really believe that people can only ever handle one way of doing something? Yes, in the beginning, taking a step-by-step process and not introduce multiple concepts may make sense. But in the longer term would we not benefit from different concepts, different methodologies and different ways of working? (I.e. more diversity vs. no diversity).

Most large organizations are focused on ‘diversity’ within the organization. Diversity can be in the form of gender, sexual orientation, cultural background, age, etc. Having diversity in the organization is premised to provide a richer set of perspectives and points of view and therefore an important part of building talent. Diversity is also critical from a PR and public perception perspective as it paints an image of the type of organization and the types of people in it. For example, a company with low percentage of women in senior leadership roles or management roles could be seen as one where women may have equal opportunities. The same can also be said for other diversity areas such as age, sexual orientation and ethnic background.

Why do we need diversity in change management?

Change management, like other disciplines, such as IT management, or HR, or Project Management is an area that cannot be fully covered with one singular framework or perspective. Just as there are countless frameworks, concepts and methodologies in HR so is the case in change management. Models include Kubler-Ross, Lewin, ADKAR, Bridges, Kotter, etc. Different models may suit different types of changes. Please read our article ‘Diagnosing for change‘ on how different change management models may be better for certain types of changes.

By using just one singular model we could be restricting our organization’s change management capability. At university we study different theories and concepts with the goal that by understanding different approaches, we start to build our understanding of the whole discipline. This allows us to pick and chose one or a combination of different approaches based on the situation. The same applies to change management. It is by understanding different change management approaches that we start to be able to tailor our approaches given any change situation.

For leaders across an organization many would argue that it is best to provide only one framework or concept for all of change management. If it is really the case that all leaders have never been exposed to any change management frameworks at all (which is unlikely to be the case for large organizations) then starting with one framework may be a good idea.

However, business leader may need to understand:

  • leading people from an engagement and emotional connection perspective
  • How initiatives are implemented and their role in it to make it a success
  • How to coach others through the change process
  • How to track, measure, analyse and report on change and embedment progress
  • The art of how to communicate in a verbal and written way using the right words and tone

All of these could have different concepts and frameworks to provide the richness of building understanding and skills. Yes it is possible to simplify different frameworks and connect them. However, as leaders continue to grow, they will need to be exposed to different concepts and approaches. In the past, projects used a waterfall methodology where tasks were planned in detail and there was little room for plan changes. Now most organizations utilise some form of agile methodology for many of their projects. For some projects waterfall methodology may be more appropriate and for others agile. Having the diversity helps organizations achieve more successful initiative outcomes.

How do we achieve diversity in change management?

Here are some areas in which to build diversity of thinking and approaches to enrich your organization’s change management capability.

  1. Change management frameworks

As mentioned before, having several change management frameworks build a richness of understanding of different approaches

  1. Change analytics

Collecting a range of change management data is incredibly valuable. Data on the impact of change across the organization enables leaders to make effective planning, sequencing and prioritisation decisions on how initiatives should be rolled out. This includes impacts to stakeholder groups such as employees, third parties, partners and customers.  Other data such as change readiness levels for initiatives, initiative benefits and business performance indicators are critical to ensure initiatives will land effectively.

  1. Change leadership

Managing change is a part of leadership. Therefore, just as there is a big range of leadership frameworks so is the case in change leadership. For example, Daniel Goleman’s emotional intelligence, Situational Leadership, Kotter, etc.

  1. Change service offering

Providing a rich set of change services can also help build change capability. Change services may include such as:

  • Initiative change management
  • Portfolio change management
  • Change leadership capability development
  • Change analytics and decision making support
  • Change coaching for leaders
  • Business-as-usual initiative coaching/support
  • Change communications support
  1. Project delivery methodology

Change management should also be geared to support a range of project methodologies that the organization is using to implement its projects. The richness of being able to flex between different project methodologies mean greater value and overall Organizational capability in managing change. Different project methodologies could include:

  • Agile – Scrum
  • Agile – Kanban
  • Lean
  • Waterfall
  • Prince2