Plus ça change… is Change Management more of the same?

The more things change the more they stay the same goes the saying.

Yet Change Management is a growth industry and fretting about change a constant source of debate.

The first change management program I was involved with affected the nature of the business, and hence jobs, of hundreds of staff in dozens of outlets. We used a consultancy called Intract and their incisive director Dee Rowe startled me by her announcement “People don’t need help managing change! They deal with change from the day they’re born. But they might not LIKE the changes you want to see. That’s where the work is.”

I recently reviewed work I had done for a multinational company implementing a technical, cultural and strategic change program across many country based operations on a rolling basis. We carried out dozens of in-depth discussions (on-line using Synthetron) with hundreds of staff over a couple of years. In each case, the change program was the same, the company and the products were the same and yet the story was completely different in each country.

In every case, the change story was the same as the history story.

If there was a history of management misleading staff, they didn’t trust the management in the context of the change, if there was a history of triumphant adoption of new ideas, they were confident about triumphing with the new change, if the history was about ignoring customer needs and losing market share – then that was also their concern about the change.

Yet often, the change management team are focusing strongly on the CHANGE and scarcely at all on the CONTEXT, the history of the people who need to embrace and implement the change program.

In every case, by running a virtual debate ahead of the first meetings in each country, we were able to give the Change team clear insights into where their audience was coming from. What has happened to them? What are the sore spots? What is the right language to use to win over the hearts and minds of this particular country.

In some cases this context was driven by events ten years previous. No head office team can be expected to have that level of understanding of multiple countries across time. And with a tool like Synthetron they don’t need to – they can discover the insights from the people themselves and shape their approach to fit. People listen when the message matches their concerns. They switch off when it doesn’t. And they love feeling listened to…. just by asking them about their hopes and fears the tide can already begin to turn. Typically we see 15-25% uplift in their feeling about the change program after a one hour online group discussion.

Quick. Easy. Thoughtful. Meaningful. And aligned with what may be the most important principle of all in change management: you can’t change anybody without knowing something about them.

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