Here are my Sunday morning coffee infused musings about organizational change…condensed in three principles:

  1. Clarity is key.

You must be able to answer a few simple yet complex questions

  • Why are we changing?
  • What is the actual problem we are trying to solve, what opportunity are we trying to take advantage of?
  • How do we know that is the right/only problem to solve?
  • What are we “transforming” to?

This seems like such a simple intuitive step, and yet it is the one question leaders I speak to are unable to answer. What are you trying to accomplish? What is the vision for this change?

The answer I usually get revolves around an output: we want to put this new process in place, change this system. However, I rarely get an answer that clarifies the ultimate “why” behind the change and/or transformation.

  1. Organizational conversations are the only way to get this clarity
    • Clarity on the “Why” for change will never emerge from an executive offsite

I repeat

  • Clarity on the “Why” for change will never emerge from an executive offsite

Also

  • Clarity on the “Why” for change will not emerge from the analysis of a consultant or a team of consultants (even Rockstar consultants)

Ok Negative Nelly, where will it actually come from?

Talking. A lot. And to a lot of people.

The knowledge you need to get clarity is always already  in the organization. There is magic in getting people to sit at a common table and have a structured yet honest, vulnerable (write that last one down), hard conversation about what needs to change and what the real issues are.

If you like, you can enlist the support of that Rockstar consultant to do the leg work and gather information to feed your conversations. Maybe even facilitate those conversations with an inquisitive mind and powerful questions. However, their contribution should be about supporting artefacts and presence not ready made answers and best practices.

  1. The only way to have those conversations is if your culture allows it
    • This one is so important that if you do not have such a culture, that is your first change project.

So. What actually is a culture that makes these conversations possible?

It is a culture in which vulnerability is encouraged, allowed and nurtured (you can make a Kumbaya joke here if you like).

This means leaders and individual contributors alike are allowed to say, “I don’t know” and “this makes me afraid”.

Why is this important? Well, the emotions linked to what people don’t know and of which they are afraid reside in those parts of the brain that don’t deal with cognition, analysis and all the good stuff. In other words, if people are afraid, they can’t think properly, they can’t brainstorm effectively, they can’t analyse and design change. They literally can’t hear you.

It is also a culture of safe accountability.

Are you just inventing concepts? Could be, but no. Why think of accountability and safety together?

The notion of accountability is an organizational truism. It is even embedded in organizational development models such as RACI. However, what accountability usually means in an organization is “whose hands will we collectively slap if this goes wrong?” Cue back to fear, vulnerability and every (wo)man for themselves.

So safe accountability (yes, ok, I invented it) is about making it possible for leaders and contributors to say “yep, that’s mine. I don’t really know how to fix it (do it, change it, deploy it etc.) but I am totally comfortable owning it and asking for help”

And finally, it is a culture of patience

A culture of patience is one that does not use the words transformation and quick wins in the same sentence. Don’t get me wrong, quick wins are essential to keeping the train moving. Your communications person will clearly be stuck if you don’t have some quick wins.

The thing is, quick wins cannot be substituted for success metrics. They cannot hide the organizational inability to communicate the long-term vision and what it will take to change.

A culture of patience is one in which it is ok for a transformation to take a long time and to start with the foundations.

Clarity. Conversations. Culture.

These principles make everything about change possible: clear change design, effective change management, anchored project management and the holy grail: long lasting adoption.