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"Do the Work" Pt 3: The Nature of Change Work
Published on: December 12, 2023
Published By: Timothy Grayson

     On one level, as an earlier essay exposed, the work of change leadership is to ensure impacted personnel change their behaviour as needed. Change managers execute techniques to gain this conformity. In this instalment, I’d like to explain why this work—so simply stated—is not, I repeat, NOT, for the the faint of heart. (At least not if succeeding is a consideration.)

Change Leadership and Management Work is HARD

     Creating and sustaining behaviour change within an organization, especially on a broad scale, is a multifaceted endeavor influenced by the nature of the behaviour, the individuals involved, and the organizational culture and structure. It is, in a word, hard.

Do the work is often dismissive and derisive. But it is good advice for the change leader and manager.

     Never mind the myriad techniques and tactics for behaviour change identified previously. There are five broad reasons why this domain of work is daunting. Each reason is itself collectively deep. Each warrants elaboration separately. For now, however, we’ll give voice to the five aggregate reasons.[1]

     Why is change leadership/management hard?

  1. It’s challenging
  2. It’s complicated
  3. It’s complex
  4. It’s deeply subject to culture
  5. The tools and strategies are intense.

Change Management is Challenging

     Of course, all jobs can be challenging. But assuming a basic level of skill and ability, change management/leadership is always challenging for everyone because it’s always different. Even when some aspects are consistent—such as resistance—the forms and causes are almost always situational and based on timing.

  • Resistance to Change – Humans are generally creatures of habit. New behaviours, especially if they challenge the status quo, will be met with some kind of resistance.
  • Multiple Stakeholders – Organizations usually have many stakeholders with differing goals, motivations, and perspectives, which makes change management a political, consensus-building endeavor.
  • Ongoing Effort – Sustaining change is not a one-time event. It requires continuous reinforcement, monitoring, and sometimes, recalibration even when it seems done.

Change Management is Complicated

     Complicated means there are many moving parts and pieces that need attention—typically all at once (holistically). Think “Rolex.” The leadership or top-level management of change does not afford the luxury of “doing things when we get to them.” The change leader/manager’s to-do list is always long with everything threatening to be a make-or-break priority if ignored.

  • Interlinked Systems – Organizations comprise many interlinked systems. While they seem discrete, often actions in one area have (unforeseen) consequences in others.
  • Resource Management – Behaviour change usually requires resources: time, money, materials, and more. Managing these efficiently for best effect within project constraints/capacity can be intricate.
  • Skill Development – Some changes might require development or enhancement of specific skills. That, for instance, is two layers of dependency-complication: project depends on skills, skills depend on training… and so on.

Change Management is Complex

     Different than complication, complexity is when even a few independent parts can affect each other unpredictably. Think “weather.” Change leadership/management usually has many elements (see above) that affect each other in unique ways depending on circumstance, sequence, and human unpredictability. Complex systems need constant attention not because there’s so much happening but because what may happen is indeterminate. It is, in a word, risky.

  • Unpredictable Outcomes – Unlike complicated systems, where inputs and processes lead to predictable outputs, complex systems (especially human organizations) can have unpredictable outcomes from interventions. It is always probabilistic.
  • Diverse Factors – Myriad factors, including individual motivations, team dynamics, power structures, and more, interact in nonlinear ways. Non-linearity is key. What it means is that there is no understandable proportionality. A very small action can have enormous consequences and vice versa.

Change Management is Influenced by Organizational Culture

     No other work or role in an organization is as troubled by, dependent on, and subject to organization culture as is change. Especially if the project and change are contrary to prevailing culture. Other work considers the culture as a part of the environment and structure for its work then adjusts to account for it. Change of behaviour has that PLUS the culture may itself be a target of the change.

  • Strong Culture – A strong organizational culture can significantly aid or hinder behaviour change. If the change aligns with the culture, it may happen smoothly. If they clash, the work is geometrically more difficult. Moreover, strong cultures can lead to groupthink, which may suppress the unconventional or new.
  • Weak or Ambiguous Culture – In this circumstance, there might be a lack of clear guiding values or norms. While this might allow for more flexibility, it can also lead to confusion or lack of alignment in the change efforts at best and at worst to the battle of charismatic’s viewpoints.

Change Management Tools and Strategies are Intense

     By intense I mean deep or detailed. The primarily understood functions of change management (communications and training) require depth of expertise. The expectation to get alignment of stakeholders at all levels of the organization is UN-level diplomacy and effort. And, ignorant top-down directive not only doesn’t work, it is often suboptimal when it does. So, engagement and expectation-setting (at all levels) requires the delicacy and balance of a Walenda.[2]

  • Communication – Clear, transparent, and frequent communication meeting the audience “where they are” is crucial.
  • Leadership Alignment – Leaders need to model desired behaviours and provide support constantly for a long time.
  • Feedback Loops – Gathering, analyzing, and acting upon feedback (in real time) is essential to adjust the change process for evolving complexities.
  • Training Development – Offering resources, training sessions, workshops, and continuous learning opportunities—especially at teachable moments, for an extended period—aids the change process.

Summary

     The work to create and sustain behaviour change in organizations is challenging, complicated, and complex. It’s frustrated by culture and requires specific, deep skills. While some principles and strategies can guide the process, each organization is unique, and interventions often need to be tailored accordingly. It requires a mix of strategic planning, adaptability, and a deep understanding of human behaviour and organizational dynamics.

     Institute X is a transformation leadership consultancy and transformation/change leader coaching firm. One of its online presences is The Change Playbook. Be sure to check out the abundance of practical and pragmatic guidance for all aspects of making change happen. Subscribe to be notified of new, fresh content.


[1]   It strikes me that although it’s not especially necessary anymore, as change management is well appreciated, this essay provides five “elevator pitch”-ready explanations for conferences, all-hands, and other networking meetings… and interviews.

[2]   Look it up.

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Behaviour change within an organization is a multifaceted endeavor influenced by the nature of the behaviour, the individuals involved, and the organizational culture and structure. It is, in a word, hard.
Published By: Timothy Grayson
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