MANAGING COMPLEX CHANGE

Is that it ?

We all have seen this slide passed on inkedin a few times with many likes on it, or elsewhere.

Yet, due to an apparently “classic” bug with the comment button, I could not reply. So here it is.

On the title:

Managing ?

Despite that the words leader & leadership are truly overstated & overrated nowadays, change needs a leading entity if not a leader. Critical (not routine) decision-making & charisma are important features of any change, for any group.

Complex ?

We can do what the slide asks for any simple changes. Let’s take one:

  • Vision: You’ll look good in an Aston Martin.
  • Skills: You have a driving license.
  • Incentives: People will look at you like you are James Bond [JB girl or Mata Hari, for the female readers].
  • Resources: You have a large bank account.
  • Action plan: You know where the AM dealer is, you’ll go tomorrow to buy the model you want.

Any negation to the previous sentences is a barrier too to such a simple change.


So do we manage complex change? No, we don’t. We lead people through change instead.

On the diagram:

It is true you need vision, skills, incentives, resources & an action plan to change. It is true too that if one is missing you are likely to fail. However, it remains somehow clearly insufficient.

At the beginning (on the left):

Before a vision you need a business case. If you don’t have it, to follow the slide’s model, call it complacency. This error is made often & could be coined as the "intuitive leadership syndrome". Too many change initiatives are created without challenging the need it fulfills.

 

To be sure, why would you need a fancy car in the first place?

In the middle:

Once you have the vision, you must communicate it. If you miss this one, the change will bring mostly political resistance. This "ivory tower" error is generally made by managers lacking social skills.

 

Indeed, you are not so sure your spouse will like the idea of a posh car as much as you do. So you don’t tell your other half. By resolving an issue you may create other problems… 

But trust is not transparency. In fact it is rather the opposite. To trust is to understand that there are things you don’t know and you rely on others knowing them.

That is why IT is currently critical as it develops tools which impose transparency to facilitate trust while not undermining accountability.

At the end (right):

After you have a plan, do it. When it is absent, name it wasted efforts. The manager with no stillborn action plan in the drawers may throw the 1st stone. That is why you need a business case to ensure it is a top priority.

 

Actually, before buying the car of your dreams, you might need to repair the leaking roof of your castle…

Further at the end (right):

While you do the change, reinforce it. Without reinforcement, dub it disconnection or aloofness. It is like that general who crossed a perilous stream to fight a battle on the other shore but left half of his army on the other side while the other half drowned in an attempt to follow him. If no one follows after the first shot, it is dead.

 

Having bought the car but keeping it in the garage at all times might be the point where your partner contacts either the nuthouse or a lawyer, if not both.

A final word on "skills, incentives & resources" (human or not):

These can be regrouped under one heading: constraints. They are not the only ones: think of time, quality, scope...

 

Oddly enough, the key constraint is commonly neglected. It is institutionalization. An organization becomes institutionalized when it starts to build in a self-maintaining, self-protective process. An organization’s sole purpose is to achieve the goals it was created to reach. Therefore, an institution is, in addition of being an organization, a self-serving group. Top management perks, worker unions’ protection or alumni associations with no other goal than to survive are obvious examples of institutionalization effects.

Some less obvious effects of institutionalization that may counter change can be found in procedures (personal or budgetary), in the use of not-relevant-anymore KPIs or any other operating routines that are incompatible with the change. You need to deal with these, right from the start.

 

If you have a €10,000 monthly debit limit, you will have to do something about it before meeting the car dealer…


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