When we think of change management we often think of major disruptions in business: rebranding, mergers, re-structures. Hopefully in this enlightened day and age these will include a well-planned change management strategy complete with communications plan, stakeholder forums, feedback loops, champions and sponsors. With planning and appropriate resources, a well thought out change management strategy can reduce business disruption, keeping up productivity, motivation and momentum.
However, as a leader you will want and need to make lots of small changes and adjustments that will impact on your team and stakeholders. Do you need to go through an involved change management process each time you want to execute an improvement? If you do how will you get anything done? Surely you were employed to make and implement decisions? Shouldn’t your team just do it your way? Unfortunately, as we are delightfully imperfect and unpredictable humans, it does not always go that way.
One of my first management jobs I was responsible for three teams and wanted to improve their communication and team work. As the teams had recently been restructured, I thought it would be better if the new team members sat next to each other and so asked that a couple of people change desks. What I thought was a simple request prompted one person to leave the office in tears for the entire day, have a complete meltdown with me the next, and bring on an entire review of her workload and job description. And for me to develop a migraine anytime anyone mentioned office layout and seating plans.
Having reflected on this and many other leadership decisions I have made and successfully implemented, I believe that when considering changing anything (big or small), you have three options: do it; do nothing; or do something else. Or to put it another way:
1. Do nothing and see what happens.
By spending some more time observing your team and work environment you might see that what first seems to be a problem could actually be a benefit. The teams might work better having to interact with others on daily basis. The introverts in the team work best if they have quiet spaces to retreat and reflect. Having the ‘go to’ person at one end of the office gives everyone else more incidental exercise.
Do you need to make this change? Are there other ways to fix the problem? Is there really a problem or just your assumption? Do the benefits of the current situation offset the other issue? Will changing this situation create flow on effects? Can you live with this as it is? What else could you do?
2. Propose the change as a hypothetical and test the impact.
Sometimes you cannot assess the problem fully just by observation. This step is a chance to consult with those affected by the change and get their input. This is not for them to refuse the change but to discuss the possible impacts and maybe find alternatives.
What do you and others think might happen? Would that bring us closer to our vision and goal? Would we feel good about that? If other problems came up, could we solve it? What else might we do that would be better than the proposed change? What would we need to make that happen? Who would be responsible? When could we get it done? Could we do trial or pilot? How would you test the result?
3. Just do it and see what happens.
Sometimes you need to be the boss and make executive decisions. There may be an external change, even a crisis or you may just need something done a different way to make your life a bit easier. That’s OK and even part of the fun. Being decisive, courageous, even provocative are positive leadership qualities. However you may benefit from using this kind of directional strategy with greater awareness.
Did you get what you expect or did something else happen? Was the reaction positive or negative? How did it impact on your team and on particular individuals? Was there acceptance, push back or resistance? What can you learn from this new discovery?
Asking your team to make a seemingly small change in their way of work (such as moving desks or shifting a regular meeting time) is one way to test their openness and willingness to make change. It allows you to see who are more flexible and adaptable, and who are rigid and resistant. Without making judgement you can see how you might motivate individuals, what they value and what are their strengths and limitations.
In making change it is great to have an objective support system to explore whatever comes up, perhaps a trusted colleague, coach or mentor. Simply observe, reflect and readjust. By giving up guilt or blame, and bringing curiosity, awareness and empathy (for yourself and others) you can deal with any change situation, big or small.