A rather depressing statistic is that about 70% of change initiatives fail. The reasons are complex and there are so many ways a project can fail that it’s actually surprising that we achieve a 30% success rate ...
I want to start this blog post with two examples ...
- The first one was drawn from my coaching practice. Mark had carved his career out of re-engineering manufacturing processes in large companies. I was introduced to him by the CEO of the latest company he was working with. The CEO summed up the problem thus: "Mark is amazing, incredibly knowledgeable and driven. However, he's like the lieutenant asked to take the fort at the top of the hill. He goes for a full-frontal attack, charges up the hill and takes the fort in no time. Then when he turns around there is no one there to help him hold the position"
Mark's view on what goes wrong he is promised promotion for taking the hill, but somehow the company always lets him go at that stage. "They use me as the hatchet man" is how he described it. It was a recurring feature of his career to date.
- Secondly, Jane as a technician in a large organisation was a survivor of many change programmes over the years. She introduced me to the expression, 'Whirlwind Management'. "You know", she said, "A new senior manager is appointed. They want to make their mark quickly so they throw everything up in the air. Then they move on and everything comes down into exactly the same place it was. And we can then get on with the work again".
I was reminded of these two examples when re-reading Adam Grant's book Originals. In particular, the Chapter called 'Out on a Limb' and his idea that to understand these types of phenomena we need to tease apart the two major components of the social hierarchy at work.
Power and status:
- Power is about having the authority to control the actions of others i.e the board invests the authority in Mark to make the efficiency savings they require.
- Status is about being respected and admired by the others involved i.e those, like Jane, who have to implement the changes.
As newcomers to the team, both Mark and the succession of Whirlwind managers in the second example had the power to introduce change. What they both forgot was that to bring the people along with them they needed the status, the informal acceptance from others.
As Adam points out in his example and Mark found out to his cost, failure builds that into your thinking and you will be punished. He lost the respect of the CEO and as a result, was in danger of having his power curtailed at best or at worst losing his job.
One last dimension in these examples is the role that Jane played in ensuring the whirlwind managers did not stick around. As a highly skilled and long-standing member of the organisation, she was held in high regard by many. Her high status gave her 'hidden' power to maintain the status quo. Any changes in that organisation were only going to happen if Jane supported them.
So, how can we use this to get better results from the change programme? As the leader, pay attention to the personal attributes of the change agents who you are empowering. Are they skilled at motivating and persuading others? What's their track record to date? Does their proposal address the need to build their status with key people in the organisation?
As the change agent, have you built-in time and actions designed to win the respect of the whole team? Have you identified the potential hidden power within the organisation?
Mark left the organisation for another similar role implementing change. However, as a result of our coaching, he addressed the issue of bringing the team along with him and winning their respect as a result. I next saw him when he invited me to dinner to show me the award he had won as Manager of the Year; a vote from across the whole organisation. Result!
And what happened to Jane? She continues to be a force to be reckoned with, but at least the organisation is now aware that getting her on board as a champion of any change initiative needs to be factored in.
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