Why change is difficult and what to do about it

Change is difficult, that’s what we often hear, and yet the pace of change is unrelenting.

 

Let’s start by looking at why change is difficult.

All change involves people and their habits . We build habits over time and these change our attitudes and behaviours. It is possible to change these and to develop new habits, however, it is not easy because habits become embedded. This is particularly strong when we look at cultures in organisations and the habits that have developed within them. Habits show up when we try and answer the question, ‘what is the way we do this in my organisation?’ For example, it could be a simple action taken on a daily basis such as how the leader addresses everyone first thing in a morning.

How often have we heard  the response, ‘we have done this before and it hasn’t worked’ when a change initiative is introduced. Yes, this could be due to a general reluctance to change. However, it can also be due to other factors.  Often people do not see the need to change and are therefore not engaged in the change process, or, the change may not have been addressing the ‘real’ problem.

So, what can help overcome resistance to change?

A way to address these concerns is to treat the change as a messy problem. That is a problem with many dimensions to it and which does not have one clear solution. This is particularly appropriate when change is required around people and their actions. I would suggest therefore that any change program start with a creative problem solving process. This ensures a thorough investigation into the reason why change is needed; that is, asking the question, what is the problem to be resolved by change?

By introducing a creative problem-solving process involving those affected by the change, there is more likely to be a higher rate of engagement in the change. When you engage people and they can understand the need for change, they are much more likely to work to make the change happen rather than resist it.

Engaging people in the change process

Engaging people requires a participative leadership model. To rely on deciding strategy at the top and disseminating it downwards does not engage them. Leaders need to involve people in the process of why the change is needed and what it will look like. It is a top down and bottom up approach.

An excellent example of engaging people in change can be seen in the change process facilitated by Marjorie Parker and detailed in her book ‘Creating Shared Vision‘. The leader created a vision for the culture change that was needed. This was shared throughout the organisation. Each department  interpreting the vision in order to make the changes needed.

A process I undertook when leading a culture change programme involved something similar. We started by involving everyone in identifying the problem, then creating a vision for what it would look like when the problem is resolved. The gap between the current situation and the future vison was identified by teams of people working together. Then behaviours were identified which were needed  to get from the present situation to future vision.

When individual behaviours are identified in the process of change, it breaks the process down into manageable parts. A great overview of change and the importance of behaviours in the change process can be seen here in the interview with Edgar Schein, one of the gurus of culture change.

Change is difficult, it is also a long process and can take years, particularly if it involves culture change. Therefore it is important to keep people energised and engaged throughout the whole process. In the example above, we had regular small collaborative meetings in the different areas where change was needed, and there was constant follow up on the actions required. It was important to keep the momentum and energy up.

Summarising the key points:

  • Change is hard, habits are enduring, and there will be resistance to change.
  • Engage people in order to overcome resistance to change; in the analysis of the problem, and the steps to change.
  • Provide or co-design a compelling vision of the new post-change situation to engage people.
  • A participative and collaborative leadership style is needed to engage people in change initiatives.
  • Working at the level of behaviours makes the change process more tangible.
  • Change takes time and energy and requires resilience of all involved.

Barbara is an executive coach, leadership and creativity facilitator. She has coached women and men in a variety of corporate settings, and has developed a unique approach to using creative techniques in her coaching and workshops to enable change at a group or individual level. She has recently co-authored a book on creativity for leaders, called Creativity Cycling , with Dr. Tracy Stanley. 

Habits and how to change them

What are habits?

Habits are behaviours we perform almost automatically. They are not  usually something we have to spend any time thinking about, we just do them, for example cleaning our teeth regularly.  Bad habits can become destructive, and these kinds of habits require our attention if we are to live healthy and fulfilling lives. An example of a bad habit could be the way we automatically open the fridge when we return home, looking for comfort food or drink to ease the stress of the day.

This applies equally in our working lives as much as our personal lives. I have written before about the habit of responding ‘yes, but’ to new suggestions and this is an example of an habitual response we can get into.

It is important to reflect upon the habits we have developed, the consequences of these  and review those we want to change.

Continue reading “Habits and how to change them”

Risk and why it is important for Creativity

Risk is a part of life: something we all live with. Some people are more comfortable with risk, others have no choice. However. I propose that for change, development, creativity and innovation, a level of healthy risk is essential.

Risk and Fear

Risk, however, can bring with it feelings of fear. As I write this I remember reading the book by Susan Jeffers, Feel the fear and do it anyway . It had a very positive effect on me at a time in my life when I was about to leave a full-time job in one country for an uncertain freelance career in another. The fear around risk is that we may fail. However, if we never take a risk, we may never live life at our best.

This fear of failure is prevalent in organisations.  Failure is often punished and the consequences of this is a reluctance to start or try anything new or different. This is detrimental to creativity and innovation. As people and as organisations, without taking a risk, we cannot develop and change. To enable creativity and innovation risk is essential.

Continue reading “Risk and why it is important for Creativity”

‘It’s where he is now but it wasn’t what he planned.’ A personal experience of change

‘It’s where he is now but it wasn’t what he planned.’IMG_0916

These words had been going around my head for weeks since I heard the Damon Albarn song ‘Mr Tembo’.

Somehow it has particularly resonated as I was facing a not unexpected but nevertheless unsettling change in my career. Continue reading “‘It’s where he is now but it wasn’t what he planned.’ A personal experience of change”

What is really important in a change programme?

I recently came across a very interesting article about Kaizen methods
of change which led to me revisiting the concept of Kaizen and change. I have always understood Kaizen to be about facilitating change through small steps. In fact the original Kaizen approach, as declared by the Kaizen Institute , emphasizes that it is not just about small steps, rather it is about everyone being involved in change. Continue reading “What is really important in a change programme?”

Life is lived forward and understood backward

To quote Mintzberg whom I referenced in my last blogpost , ‘As Kierkegaard once observed, life is lived forward but understood backward. Managers may have to live strategy in the future, but they must understand it through the past’

At the point at which events happen we often cannot totally understand their meaning and certainly not their full implication. We can only infer what this may mean in the future. However we can and should look back and reflect how events have shaped where and who we are now in order to move forward. Continue reading “Life is lived forward and understood backward”

Goals are important however they should not be set in stone

As someone who is in the business of supporting others to change, I accept that the setting of goals is very important. However I am reminded, every time I set a goal, of the line from John Lennon’s song Beautiful Boy,  ‘ Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans’.

I am sure this has been interpreted many times in many ways however I wanted to share my take on this and the context in which I am writing this. Continue reading “Goals are important however they should not be set in stone”

Enabling change in an energised way

I have been enabling change for as long as I have been working! This has taken many forms, as a manager, a teacher, trainer, facilitator and coach. One of the constant challenges I have found is how to gain peoples buy in to what can be a very painful process. If we are honest, few of us like change initially. You just have to look at the way people choose to sit in the same seats every day on their daily commute! We create our own comfort zones by forming habits and performing rituals on a  daily basis. This provides a sense of security and I am not knocking this as I need this as much as anyone, however we do need to be pushed out of our comfort zones in order to grow and develop and for change to happen. Continue reading “Enabling change in an energised way”

4 ways passion is important at work

Passion can be defined as any powerful or compelling emotion. This can be either positive or negative and wars have been fought due to the level of negative emotion.  So, what does passion mean in a work context?

4 ways in which passion is important at work

  1. Passion is strongly correlated with motivation. If people are passionate about what they are doing then they will be motivated. Motivation and passion will keep you going and developing

“The thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That’s it. And what’s more, the people at the very top don’t work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.” – Malcolm Gladwell Continue reading “4 ways passion is important at work”

The value in creating a shared vision

Creating a shared vision

Creating a vision is essential in any change process because a vision offers us a strong mental image of something we want to create in the future and it can motivate us towards that future. When the vision involves others, then engaging them in a shared vision is extremely valuable. It is more powerful than developing a strategy particularly if it is developed as an image rather than using words. Continue reading “The value in creating a shared vision”

Change and the creative process

Some time ago in my working life as an employee I initiated a change process which made excellent use of creative tools. I will come back to this example in future blog.

Since then I have been using creative tools in my work in a variety of contexts as well as teaching them to managers and leaders. I am convinced of the value of using creative thinking tools in order to work through the change process.

So what does this mean? Continue reading “Change and the creative process”

Wicked Problems and Creative Change

Change is a given in organisations and the need for change is recognised when there is a gap between what is desired and what exists. We could refer to this gap as a problem or a series of  issues, sometimes even an opportunity.

In terms of problems there are two ways of looking at these, tame and wicked problems. Tame ones are relatively easy to solve as they are clearly formulated and there is an obvious testable solution. These can be solved using logical, rational means provided that there is a clarity around the problem definition. Continue reading “Wicked Problems and Creative Change”