There’s a great deal of inertia within any system, and this is as true of social systems as it is of mechanical ones. Change is hard to implement and hard to accept in many cases. The challenge is to build momentum and to ensure that whilst we are throwing out parts of the old and welcoming in the new, we don’t accidentally throw out the best of the old and fundamentally change what we’re about.
Organisation are complex assemblages of people, locations, clients and histories, both personal and institutional and, just as people have memories, so, to, there is an institutional memory. Change needs to be dealt with on all these fronts: we need to address the needs of individuals, clients and the underlying organisational culture and pride.
To some extent, accepting change is somewhat similar to a typical buying process. We somehow need to convince ourselves that our lives will be richer if they contain the new, improved and added value situation, rather than the old and dusty one. Whilst advertising can influence us, and let us know the facts, the journey is more emotional than practical. Buying a new car is only partly about miles per gallon and metallic paintwork: it’s more an act of visualising ourselves sitting in the padded seats, cruising round the country lanes and wearing cool sunglasses (let’s leave aside the reality of sitting in traffic on the M3 listening to Steve Wright).
Clearly this journey is easier if, at heart, i genuinely believe that i want the end state, and this is where many organisational change journeys fall down. Much effort goes into determining the goals that the organisation wants to procure, often much effort goes into looking at what the customers might want, but it’s not usual to investigate what the individuals within the organisation want. I think a lot of this behaviour is driven by the fact that change is so strongly associated with cost saving and redundancies, and an innate fear of talking to the workforce, but people sit at the heart of organisations, and their memories and values, both personal and collectively as an institution, power the organisation forward.
I’m not suggesting a touchy feely exercise is called for, but rather that we probably need to challenge our own assumptions about who ‘owns’ the change and what that triangle of interest really looks like. Engaging with customers and individuals within the organisation will surely deliver the best results for the organisation itself, as these are the very people who can give the change the momentum it needs to proceed.