In which change gets a life of its own and the plan gets in the way
I was once engaged to facilitate some change workshops to help an organisation implement new ways of working – what they were calling a new culture – it involved moving to a new building. These workshops were stage one of the change, and were to concentrate on the strategic picture, the vision of the organisation, and inspire them to see need for change, This was preparatory to more detailed workshops that would follow in stage two where the nuts and bolts would be worked through.
The workshops were highly designed affairs, designed in fact by a PR firm and included magnetic boards, glossy handouts with inspirational stories of pioneers, video with a well known comedian, fancy posters and other similar artifacts.
So, guess what the managers wanted to talk about in this workshop full of vision, inspiration, pioneering, and clever artifacts? Laptops – i.e. would they have laptops? Car parks, i.e. would they have car parks. And even, would there be space in the fridge to put their lunches? I kid you not – I couldn’t have made that up.
At the time, I was pleased to hear this stuff because I could hear issues relating to status and identify, which I wanted to explore.
However, the change project team could only hear "irrelevant detail," and was disappointed in the managers who were not supposed to be interested in these things until stage two, when logistics of this nature would be covered in the next series of workshops they had planned. The change project team, who knew the answers to these questions, did not want to talk about these things, which they dismissed as “detail.” I’m sure you can imagine the conversation “Those managers just do not understand the big picture – they’re only concerned about themselves.”
The managers were disappointed, feeling they could not get answers to their questions and that the project team were hiding things from them.
The project team was frustrated with me for not keeping it “strategic” enough.
And I was frustrated with the project team for having so much emphasis on the flash artifacts and not recognizing that when one of the General Managers said “Up until now I had not considered the impact of this on my people,” that this was a break through, not something negative, it was not resistance.
We have a problem in our thinking about change projects, which is that so often they are supposed to go according to the grand plan. And this means that after all the elaborate project planning and gantt charts, when things don’t go according to plan, such as when managers are interested now in where they will sit, instead of "strategic" things, project teams don’t have an adequate response.
If, instead, you are paying attention to what is going on NOW and responding to it in a genuine way in a spirit of ‘joint enquiry,’ then you will notice when people are interested in these other things and be able to flex with their needs, answer them and then carry on together.
Look, Ma, no resistance!