Change – just suck it up!

dui-law-changesBeing a pom, I hadn’t heard the ‘suck it up’ phrase until I came to New Zealand. I find it quite amusing…I particularly like some of its derivatives like ‘harden up’ and ‘take a concrete pill’.

Obviously it isn’t always appropriately used but it reflects an attitude of ‘stop whinging, it is what it is – just get on with it’.

So, when I hear the oft quoted remark that ‘change is the only constant’ (or such like), I note that this is used (in various guises) by ‘leaders’ to basically say ‘just suck it up’. A re-organisation is a classic example when it is brought out of the ‘communication’ drawer.

Consider the opposite though, that human beings are creatures of habit and resist change. Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter sets out reasons for why this is so, and I pull out/shape some of these below:

  • Loss of control: interfering with our desire for autonomy
  • Excessive uncertainty: major change feels like walking off a cliff blindfolded
  • Sudden surprise: no time to consider (where a short ‘consultation’ period does not count as time)
  • Loss of face: we are likely to have a lot emotionally invested in the current state…we might even have designed parts of it!
  • More work: having to deal with the change (and it’s inevitable glitches because the new ‘grand plan’ can never be 100% thought through) on top of the real work
  • Upsetting the system: the change is likely to have knock on effects, disrupting other parts of the whole which could not have been foreseen.

So there is clearly a paradox, a herculean rub here: We are being told to constantly change, yet we don’t like change!

Now, the command-and-control response is typically to introduce a ‘Change Manager’ to the mix to grease the change through the lumps and bumps in the way.

But what if the combined ‘manager – process performer team’s constant state was of one in which their job was to continually change the system they work in, for the good of the customer…rather than having this done to them.

Mike Rother, in his excellent book Toyota Kata contrasts two types of management thinking in respect to making improvements:

  1. normal daily management + improvement (where process improvement is a separate add-on activity, often wrapped up into projects to be carried out by other teams and then ‘rolled out’ to the process…often requiring significant ‘change management’)
  2. normal daily management = process improvement (where improving and managing are one and the same, where the changes are identified, tested and then ‘rolled in’ within the system…which virtually strangles the need for ‘change management’)

For us to crush the ‘change’ paradox, we need to move from a command-and-control environment in which the change is dictated to the system to a systems-thinking environment in which the changes come from within the system.

If we re-examine the reasons for fearing change, we can see that most dissolve away when:

  • the ‘manager- process performer team’ are in control of improving the process;
  • …which means we have replaced excessive uncertainty with controlled sequential experiments;
  • …with no surprise as to what is coming (they, after all, are masters of this);
  • …meaning that they own how they build upon what they have already done, for the good of the customer;
  • …such that these improvements are part of the work, not extras imposed upon them;
  • …with all experimental results studied to learn their effect on the system BEFORE action is taken.

How do we successfully do this? To start, we need to critically examine our management thinking.

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