When it comes to approaching change there are, it seems, two types: people like us who are forward thinkers, ready to embrace the opportunities of technology, and new ways of working and thinking; and them, who are happy with the way things are and perpetually stuck in old-fashioned ways. Joking aside, it is a topsy-turvy world where Conservative politicians boast of their radical agenda whilst trade unionists often challenge any attempts to change existing working practices. Add in the noise, hubbub, clatter and clutter of today’s society with its disruptive technology, thinking and behaviours, and it can be an unsettling world. In fact, some people ascribe the rise in fundamentalist religions to be a direct response to the pressures of our modern volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world. And, of course, businesses and leaders need support in making sense of all this and require help in navigating their way through the bewilderment.
2,500 years ago the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said “There is nothing permanent except change.” In doing so he rather unintentionally launched the School of business-speak clichés. Also permanently with us, it seems, is the change management industry. Businesses need help, apparently, in finding ways to monetise content in an age of free, or bricks and mortar in an online world. Everyone needs help in rightsizing or in creating new business models that take account of globalisation, sustainability, and increased competition. The solution, it appears, is to call in the change consultants.
Scratch the surface of change management and you’ll find a whole eco-system buzzing with buzz words, and a methodology for every madness. Everywhere you look there are solutions looking for problems. There are the big consultancy firms who arrive with pantechnicons piled high with partners and associates, ready to fill you with awe at their intelligence and to make you dependent on their systems. There are the experiential experts who want to help you bring your brand and values to life by co-imagining a future state. Then there are the organisational designers, with their reporting lines, the programme managers with their Gantt charts and Excell sheets, the HR experts with new processes and procedures to replace the old processes and procedures, the communication experts with their engagement and leadership visibility programmes, and the behavioural psychologists…and on it goes providing Dante with enough new material for another circle of hell.
I exaggerate, of course, to make a point. But here are some serious tips. Firstly, whatever you do, approach change as a natural, evolutionary process and not as a programme. And never give it a name as to do so will only serve to remind people that there were programmes before and, more likely than not, there will be programmes afterwards. Secondly, you can’t create change (although you can create disruption) but you can create the climate in which change happens. And this leads to the most important point: change comes from within. Given the right circumstances changes can occur spontaneously and straightforwardly. In order for this to happen a new approach to leadership is required, one that sees its role not as that of making decisions but one of creating the environment in which decisions can be taken. It also requires a style of leadership that recognises that words are a poor proxy for behaviour. Rather than telling people what the new behaviours are, success comes from living them. Change starts and finishes with the self. Get that bit right and you sow the seeds for sustainable change. As Tolstoy put it: “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”