It would appear that change is ubiquitous and unavoidable, and the net result of that is that everyone – who has a mind – wishes to control it, to get on top of it, to be a master of change rather than its victim. The Earl of Salisbury was in quite another era when he said, "
Change? Change? Why do we need change? Things are quite bad enough as they are"! But change is difficult and perhaps the great quality guru, Philip Crosby, put his finger on the pulse when he said, "Good ideas and solid concepts have a great deal of difficulty in being understood by those who earn their living by doing it some other way". And there are so many people who earn their living by doing things another way.
In the UK alone in the last three years the attempt by Government to bring down its spending and reduce public debt has been spectacularly ineffective. Why? Because at least 50% of the working population has been earning a living by doing things another way. Earning is perhaps too strong a word, for – from bankers above to unionized workers below and the public sector in the middle – we have huge swathes of unproductive employees who expect to make a living without being productive. And that doesn’t even account for the numbers of people who are paid long-term for not having any job at all. As the Arabic proverb says, "The person who really wants to do something finds a way. The other person finds an excuse."
However, when we come down to the reality on the ground we find there are four main change stoppers that over and above the ‘I am already comfortable Jack, thanks’ philosophy really do stymy progress or effective change.
First, is what is called the dependency culture. This is associated with hierarchical management – all too common in organisations worldwide; and its consequence is people who lack information, skills, confidence, or power; they cannot make the changes and so accept second or even third best. The key antidote to this is the development and promotion of the core skill of delegation. Can bosses actually let go, and let others?
Then, there is, second, the busy-busy management style which is symptomatic of authoritarian types. You know them? The perennially busy leader or manager who never stops to ask - why? Why are we so busy? Why are we always firefighting, living on the edge of adrenalin rushes and crises? The hope here is possibly that such leaders at some deep level know their inadequacy and want, desperately, to have credibility. This can make them open and receptive to the latest fads and ideas, which may produce change enhancements if not overload. The two key skills to develop are listening as a skill and planning as an activity.
Third, there is isolation through the cultural climate or communication systems. Thus, without access to others' ideas, individuals become more resistant to change. In this respect it is easy for leaders to ignore implications of simple geographical layout in terms of effective communications. So, the core skill to develop here is communications: systems comms, one-to-one comms, presentation and written skills.
Finally, there is blaming, an too familiar phenomenon, and something which the effective leader never does. For blame destroys a creative, risk-taking culture; it also reduces the effectiveness of the individual, and in any case subordinates harbour grudges even when the blame is justified. The antidote to blame is to focus on what needs to be done - and how it might still be done despite some temporary setback. One has to believe at a fundamental level that making a mistake is the most effective form of learning. Thus, the key here and to blame generally is developing a systems approach within your organisation.
Let’s bear in mind, then, as Guiseppe di Lampedusa said, "If you want things to stay the same, they have to change". That isn’t going to be easy, but it is necessary, and if we bear in mind the guidelines above we have some chance of success.