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Bruce Holland

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Change is NOT a Straight-line Process

It's becoming clear from the emerging literature on networks that change does not occur in a way that we thought it did.

The billiard ball conceptualisation of corporate behaviour, whereby firms respond neatly to a series of interventions, as a ball does to a well-placed cue shot, is not the way it happens. Rather, the process of influencing becomes much more about managing, cultivating and spreading change.

Key to this process is identifying the intermediaries and network hubs able to influence others to change behaviour. Seth Godin, author of "Unleashing the idea virus" refers to such people as sneezers. He insists that sneezers are at the core of any idea virus. Sneezers are the ones who when they tell 10 or 20 people -people believe them.

Execution is Difficult

Even the best managers have problems, especially in taking the step from planning to doing. Recently different C.E.O.s, all of whom I would rate as some of the best, failed to execute, not because they become disillusioned with the strategy, not because the destination looks any less rosy, but because they become afraid of the journey and there is nothing to alleviate that fear.

No one knows what to expect on the journey from today, which is well known and safe, to tomorrow, which is unknown and unsafe. Change is darkest at the entry point and becomes progressively brighter as you emerge towards the other side.

What looks easy during the strategic workshop phase looks very different when you get back into the office and have to start implementing the changes.

Words in the plan can mean taking the following actions

  • Reduce staff means Fire people
  • Reorganise staff means Demote people
  • Invest in the organisation means Reduce current profit margins
  • Change procedures means Reverse others' decisions
  • Create accountability means Provide negative feedback
  • Lead by example means Change comfortable behaviours
  • Listen to employees means Received negative feedback
  • Reverse decisions means Admit failure or poor decisions
  • Abandon consensus management means Confront peers and Associates
  • Raise prices means Alienate customers.

Some Pitfalls to watch out for

1. Demonstrate the need for change

In any organisation, once the beliefs and energy of a critical mass of people are engaged, conversion to a new idea will spread like an epidemic. Most chief executives try to make the case for change by pointing to the numbers. But messages communicated through numbers seldom stick. To front line managers they are too abstract and remote. A far better approach is to put the manages face-to-face with the operational problem so they can't evade reality. For example:

  1. George Hickton sent his senior team to manage the toughest office in the country for a week when he was with Social Development
  2. Dick Hubbard along with all of his managers spends time on the production line and they see at first hand the issues of production workers
  3. Bill Brandon, New York Police Department, made all his senior staff ride the subway so they saw first hand the problems at night.

2. Small Things Matter

Recent research has backed my experience with change, that small things matter. Managers are often so close they don't see them or if they do see them they think they are so small they can't possibly matter.

An example may help to make the point.

I introduced a major empowerment process throughout a large manufacturer who wanted the front-line to take more initiative and be more responsible. I worked with the senior managers and with every staff member but made almost no progress as long as the company maintained separate cafeterias for managers and staff. People would say to me: "You say we matter, but they won't even eat with us!"

Small things in the environment are far more important than most managers believe and certainly more important than almost all change consultants think.

3. Value Proposition

Sometimes execution fails because the Value Proposition is unclear. For more details see separate note in under Strategic Alignment.

4. Alignment

Sometimes execution fails because the culture, leadership style, service delivery or branding is poorly aligned to the Value Proposition. See separate notes in under Strategic Alignment.

5. The dimensions of change

Before implementation can be properly executed three physical dimensions, three infrastructural dimensions and three value dimensions need to be carefully aligned to make sure the that supporting and reinforcing the strategy rather than working against it. See separate notes on under Strategic Alignment.

6. Involvement

See separate notes under Strategic Execution.

7. Accountability

No strategy is completed until every single person in the organisation has a job description which is closely aligned to the major organisational strategies agreed. Yet in my experience this hardly ever happens. See separate notes under Strategic Execution.

8. Measurement

All organisations need a few good Key Performance Indicators that will show that you are on track towards your strategies. David Parmenter, another Virtual Consultant, is the King of KPIs in New Zealand and increasingly internationally. Give David a call on 027-487-7726 and tell him I sent you.

9. Developing motivation

Employees must not only recognise what needs to be done, they must also want to do it. Many managers recognise the importance of getting people motivated to make change, but they make the mistake of trying to change incentives throughout the whole organisation. That process takes too long to implement and can prove very expensive in a very large company. Another way is to single out the key influencers, people inside or outside the organisation with a disproportionate amount of power. There are often only a few of these and it's relatively easy to identify them and motivate them. Put them under the spotlight, give them special incentives, bring them together in meetings, create challenges and get them on side.

10 Politics

Politics is a fact of life when it comes to change. It's best to recognise it and plan to eliminate it. People who fiercely and vocally resist the change may need to be removed. Key influencers both internal and external need to be identified and brought on-board.

A major part of my role is to alert you to dangers along the journey

  1. I start by finding out obstacles which have foiled implementation of projects in the past.
  2. I find out who the main opponents will be and make plans for them.
  3. I make sure you have a budget, if there is no money to implement change, change will not be implemented.
  4. I raise possible negative issues experienced elsewhere and insure that you aren't being overly optimistic about what's required for success.
  5. I track early implementation actions very closely to determine whether or not anything has been missed.
  6. I serve as your coach, who to come to for help with sensitive or uncomfortable tasks.
  7. I establish a reporting system from the outset so any unexpected problems will be quickly reported and corrected.

Warmest wishes


Bruce Holland

Helps large organisations be focussed, fast and flexible. Places where people have more meaning, depth and connection.

Expert in Strategy, Structure, Culture and Leadership Development.

One of NZ's most experienced change agents.

Liberating the Human Spirit at Work
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