Change is a complex thing, something that is fascinating when it happens to others, unsettling when happening to ourselves. I had a fascinating conversation yesterday with a senior manager in a large organisation who described how they’d used ‘Town Hall’ open sessions to allow for open discussion of the change agenda. This was a method of both letting off steam, but also moving ownership of the messages out into the wider community.
Whilst change may require vision and strategy to start it moving, it requires many pairs of hands along the way to keep momentum, and willing hands will be more effective than coerced ones.
The challenge for leaders is to have the courage to shape a strategy, but to provide space for individuals throughout the organisation to shape the processes, to create spaces for dissent, for discussion and for uncertainty, but ultimately to align all of these into a single journey. Because there will be uncertainty and dissent, whether you consciously create a space for it or not. The question is, do you want to be part of the debate, or simply to drive it underground.
Whilst change creates uncertainty, it also creates opportunity, and that opportunity is not immediately apparent from the start. This is opportunity for both the organisation and the people within it. Again, allowing people the space and time to reflect and identify this opportunity, to own and shape it, is more likely to be effective than simply defining it and pushing the message out.
Organisation culture is a topic we’ve looked at before, a peculiar mixture of individual experience and institutional memory, but it’s a powerful force and one that we shouldn’t underestimate. You can’t define a culture, but you can nurture it. Culture is as much an ethical stance as it is a commercial one, and it’s important that change takes account of this. Again, creating spaces for people to explore and refine this themselves is going to be more effective than simply pushing.
There are many theories around organisational change, and many processes to support it, but yesterday i enjoyed the simplicity of the conversation and imagery around the town hall meetings. The idea that, after budgets have been set and stock markets notified, that change is driven from the feet on the ground, the idea that ultimately even the biggest city is actually just a collection of villages, the people thrive in teams and groups where they can define and own their destiny.