Change management - a failure of structure and denial
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Change management - a failure of structure and denial
by: Jim Leis
I spent the first 10 years of my professional career valuing and turning
around failing companies. That kind of experience gave me a slanted view of how
profitable organizations run. For instance, I naturally assumed companies
approached their business with a sense of urgency. Boy, was I wrong. I also
assumed change management was the daily fare upon which companies dined. That is
partly right. But not in the way I thought it was.
Turning around a company is all about change. Obviously structures and
processes cannot remain as they are since the company is failing. As it turns
out, not many executives know how to diagnose and heal an ailing organization,
although there are a great deal of professionals who know how to sell off the
body parts. Even more enlightening, most executives cannot tell you exactly why
their company is profitable.
People versus structure
And that is a vital clue about how staid and unchanging most companies are;
they are riding on their brands and market share as if the world will never
change. They view their organizational structure as carefully interlocking
processes and departments, making adjustments through formal technology requests
or re-engineering teams. You know, like you would go about fixing a car or an
office tower, with bid requests and time estimates.
The fundamental problem with this third person approach is that organizations
are teams of people, with cultures and beliefs and emotions and opinions.
Further, the executives and experts rarely know more than the teams that spend
their careers working in those departments and processes, talking to customers,
delivering the products and reacting to adversity. Change of any kind is not
something you do to an organization, it is something you facilitate. It is the
patient that must do the healing, not the doctor.
Permanence and denial
In a failing firm, it is regrettably almost always the case that most of the
management staff need to be relieved of their duties. It isn't because everyone
is angry that they drove the company into the ditch. Besides, they have
experience and connections which could be useful in reviving the firm. But they
end up being in the way. It turns out that virtually all of them are in denial
in a Kubler-Ross kind of way, even with the bank knocking on the door and the
losses piling up one nasty quarter after another.
You see, they want things to stay the same. They refuse to believe their
company is dying. They believe that if the economy changes or a customer comes
along, everything will be fine. Meanwhile, their sick organization lays on its
death bed untreated and gasping for air. When friends and doctors refuse to
believe the patient is sick, they have to be asked to leave the hospital room.
I have developed a method of dealing with that denial, including
recommendations of formal counseling. I have been through the loss of a loved
one and a failing firm is no different, especially for those who have dedicated
their careers to it. After all, organizations are alive even if we sadly do not
treat them that way. Organizations have a personality, a culture, a life view,
and a purpose. They have a conscience, a fitness level, and a sense of who they
are no matter how battered or worn.
Fundamental organizational change involves throwing out all those textbook
'third party' approaches. They assume if you lead just right, you communicate
just right, you appeal to everyone just right, and 'empower' folks just right,
you can change them. No wonder change management has a 70% failure rate. Because
that is not how change occurs.
Internalization, autonomy, and constant change
Change occurs because people internalize their issues, and decide to do
something about it. Change requires inclusion and honesty and empathy. Cognitive
therapy texts in this sense are more insightful than change management books.
Because change is first and last something you do to yourself. No psychologist
changes you. No leader changes you. That method only begets resistance and
cognitive dissonance. The truth is, we change ourselves. And that is the same
way it is with teams and organizations.
Teams change because they know they can improve. Teams change because they
internalize their destiny. Teams change because they realize that the status quo
is not statism, that the feeling of permanence is only an illusion, that our
lives are always changing, and that change is actually an integral ingredient of
a healthy, productive life. Teams change because they embrace their
responsibilities and lose their fear.
There is no permanence. There is only continual improvement and adaptation.
And after that idea has sunk in, and after that culture is embraced, nothing can
stop a team or an organization from moving forward in a constant climate of
self-induced change. Not even leadership enveloped in self-invested control or
Kubler-Ross, Elisabeth. On Death and Dying. Scribner, 1997. On
resolving the stages of grief.
Burns, David D. Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy Revised and Updated.
Reprint. Harper, 1999. The bible of cognitive thinking, suitable for motivating
individuals and teams.
Jim Leis has held consulting, technical, and executive positions in systems
design, strategy, finance, and business development. He focuses on optimizing
profitability in failing and profitable firms. Currently he is writing a book on
the ability of organizational structure to increase both reliability and
innovation. He can be reached through the
Leis Network website.
Published here on: 28-Nov-10
Classification: Business, Change