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During Change, Provide Your People with Ordinary Conversation as Well as “Communication”

Stephen Billing, June 24, 2009

In my last post I highlighted Saras Sarasvathy’s simile of a meal that can be prepared either by designing a menu and then assembling the ingredients to make the meal (which she calls causation) or by looking to see what ingredients are to hand and choosing the dishes based on the ingredients in the cupboard.

I am struck by how many corporate change initiatives focus on the set pieces such as road shows, documents and deadlines. The change team prepares a plan with these events set to occur at certain intervals. This is very similar to preparing a series of three course dinners over the course of the project.

The trouble is that while it will produce a number of lovely meals, it ignores the other nights when there is no meals planned by the change team. On those nights, the troops have to make their own meal out of what’s in the cupboard. In other words, your people have to make sense of what is going on by themselves, informally, and they do this in the tea rooms, at breaks and over drinks. 

Your people can enjoy a lovely restaurant meal, but the restaurant food makes up only a relatively small proportion of their calory intake. In the same way, your road show events and documents you produce as part of your change project provide some opportunities for making sense of the change, but far more of the sense-making takes place back on the job. As a leader, you cannot be present at every sense-making opportunity.

But instead of providing only formal events driven by your project plan, you can pay attention to the informal communication that is going on, perhaps creating opportunities for genuine conversation with your people. This will assist their sense making process and you are more likely to get your change through with less resistance.


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