Matters Column

When it’s time for change, do it the right way

April 20, 2018
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What is it that raises the topic of change? Perhaps it is one of the following conditions: 1) Circumstances cause some people to lack opportunities; 2) Circumstances are physically or emotionally detrimental to someone or some group; 3) Someone wants more control over a situation; 4) Something can be done easier or better; 5) Change can be lucrative; 6) A revised “environment” will make someone happier; 7) Events caused by physical environmental changes, e.g. hurricanes.

As we examine these various categories, with the exception of the last one, a person or people initiate an action with a desired outcome more conducive to their status quo. The leader of the change initiates the process, which may or may not be recognized at the beginning of the process, but it starts to disrupt the norm and that begins the change and the discussion.

How does change happen?

Change is a topic people discuss all the time, whether it is in politics, personal relationships, society, communities or business. It is the most talked about subject there is. Where we are is never right; what we used to do isn’t right and certainly what the other party or person is doing can be done better if only… Easy to talk about, but the reality is something else. Making change is really hard. As we frequently see, change isn’t just a process that happens in one way, nor is the outcome of change always a better end situation. Even letting things stay as they are can be thought of as moving backward because you have to keep current with what’s going on around you.

Change, when you think about it, is a very complex concept. First of all, at any place, at any point in time, with any physical structure or intellectual process, there are multiple forces exerting pressure on the elements surrounding that particular space, which results in change to some degree. Some are almost imperceptible and some highly visible and dynamic. So, when we want to make a change, it will involve creating a force that has greater strength than those currently in place or currently pushing in a certain pattern. So, step one for change is to define the desired outcome. Step two: Identify the most predominate forces affecting the situation. This step is very frequently overlooked until late in the effort. Most of us leap to what is the solution required to implement the desired outcome. The consequence is we often chose a process or method for change that may be inappropriate or more difficult to implement.

If we spend some upfront time examining the critical forces that got us to where we are, we might be able to apply a better or more appropriate tool or dynamic to shift the existing forces in the desired direction with less effort, with less cost and in a shorter period. Those who “shoot from the hip” might seem decisive and dynamic but often end up with less gain or even some loss than those who analyze, plan, plod and put in place the right building blocks at the right place and time. If done with some insight, desired change is possible.

The change process

There are a number of elements to change that are integrated and have to be managed to make the desired outcome successful. First, there is the idea. Then there are the tools of change, which may be technology, an organization, capital, regulation, communication, etc. Finally, there is the education regarding the benefits of the change in order to have the change gain acceptance.

If you review the commentary above regarding forces, when you begin the process of tool selection, you may note that I implied it is always necessary to develop a counter force to make a change. This is not always the case. In fact, when you do your analysis of why things are as they are, you may find forces or trends that you can utilize or even emphasize to achieve your objective. For example, technology, both hard and soft as in cellphones, tablets and social media, can be instrumental in change, and you don’t have to re-invent them — just apply them to your cause, with emphasis on your objectives.

Utilization of newfound tools

Organizations are getting on board to a large extent in figuring out how to apply these tools to achieve their goals of selling ideas and products to their clients, customers and various audiences. However, it is my perspective that they are looking at this from a limited perspective. That perspective is primarily at the external audience.

What I believe they have missed is the communication and education of the internal audience. They can be using the same techniques and tools to cultivate the players on the team. They have to be subtle in bringing the external audience along, or else that audience just shuts them down or goes over to the competition. The internal audience generally doesn’t get the same considerations and treatment; they may even experience the “my way or the highway” mentality.

This is unfortunate because each time we encounter an organization culture when leadership and staff members are aligned, the results far outpace the competition. These organizations spend time building trust, joint problem resolution and goal achievement with less time on discipline, turnover and conflict resolution. Employees want to be successful and they want the organizations they are part of to be successful, as that adds to their self-esteem. When employees feel they can be confident their leaders are looking out for them, they will help the leaders better understand what they need to be successful and will share their concerns about how change will affect them. Then the leaders can make change decisions that balance the needs of everyone, rather than do a refit when things go down the tube. This applies to everyday retail organizations with mainly part-time staff to highly sophisticated international operations.

Where does an organization start to manage change effectively? It starts with an idea, “What do I want to be when I grow up?” followed by identification of the forces that support or counteract this idea. Then perform the analysis of the tools you currently have and what may work better. Along the way, you educate all the players on the team as to how you will operate in the new environment you are developing, re-enforcing the desired behaviors and protocols. Whoever said, “It’s time for change” was correct, but they also needed to say, “With understanding and a plan, not just a tweet.”

Ardon Schambers is president and principal at P3HR Consulting & Services.

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