Tag Archives: change

What Does It Take To Change?

Yesterday, as I was sat discussing business plans with an advisor, I was asked, ‘What do you think makes it possible to bring about change?’  My mind was racing!

I won’t go into the details of the discussions that followed but I will mention one or two observations that we both made and some thoughts that came to mind:

  • Is change always necessary to achieve our goals? Too often we want change for the sake of change, not because it is the best way forward or the best way to achieve our objective.  No! Change isn’t always necessary.
  • If do we need to change, is it easy? The answer here is No:  Change is rarely easy. In order to change we need to disturb the status-quo, how it’s always been done and bring a bout a shift that not only provides a plan of how to do it, but also the inspiration and motivation to achieve it.  We need the right people to drive the process and bring about the changes, not with a whip of chords but by personal example and commitment.
  • How do we bring about change? The person driving the process needs to believe that it will work and then persuade and take others with them through to completion.   I was talking to a friend whose boss thought that a particular activity would be ‘good for staff morale.’   However, when asked if they would be taking part, the immediate answer was, ‘On no! Not me.’   At that point a great idea lost credibility, not because the person perceiving the idea wasn’t taking part, but because they had no intention of taking part.   Sometimes we have great ideas that we can give to others to execute because we don’t have the necessary skills etc, but we believe in the idea and our passion motivates those who execute it on our behalf.   Demonstrating that we have little or no personal belief in our idea a) is immediatelyperceived by those carrying it out and b) immediately raises doubts and drains energy.  The plan may be  executed, but by firing squad rather than enthusiasm.   The result is negative not positive.

Too many books make change sound essential and easy.

I believe change is good when it’s necessary and is easier when the people behind the change can champion it effectively and get the ‘buy-in’ from those who have to make the adjustments.

I think there’s too much hype around the subject leading us to believe that unless we change we can’t hope to be successful or even survive as businesses and as people.  I also believe that many of the changes implemented relate less to what’s needed and more to an individual or group of individuals who want to put their mark on something, what I would call ‘ego-driven change‘ rather than ‘purpose-driven change.’

Here is a very contemporary example of ego-driven change

This is the exam season here in the UK.   One of the people responsible for setting-up exam rooms told me of a recent event where an exam was stopped by an invigilator, not because of an irregularity in the paper, or a fire alarm but because the sign outside the exam hall, asking passing students to ‘Be Quiet Please, Exams in Progress‘ was written in red ink on a white background rather than black ink on a white background.   The exam was suspended until the offending sign had been changed.   Who instigated such mind-numbing stupidity?  I suspect someone who was wanting to put their stamp on the education policy.  Who benefitted from this? The students taking the exam?  Definitely not!  Their thought flow was disrupted and they were  extremely hacked-off.  The person making the sign or the college?  No. Time and materials required to effect the change cost money.  I’m very sure that such change did result in making a difference.  However, I’m too polite to write down my views on exactly what difference the change made!!

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False Economy

Our biggest asset is Our people.’

So boasts many a company.  But how much do they really engage with that statement.   Is it just another trite cliche, there to impress those on the outside?

One of the best indicators for how much a company really thinks about its people and how much it values them is how much it actually invests in them, demonstrated clearly by size of the budget assigned to continue their development, even when times are tough.

I have friends in a number of large, ‘innovative’, ‘people-focussed’ organisations whose first axed budget was for training and development.  All too often I’m told, ‘Stuart, there is no training budget this year. It’s been cut in the current economic climate.’

To me that really says, ‘As a company we don’t really value our people.’

We talk much about investing in people, supporting our staff, being people-focussed when in fact we’re anything but!

The most valuable commodities when times are hard are creative and innovative ideas which can only come from our people, not our products.   Those creative ideas not only help a company survive and save money in the hard times, they are the gateway to future expansion and success.

As one business author wrote, ‘Those companies with a survival mentality will die.’

It is those companies that really invest in their people who will reap the rewards, survive and thrive.

Perhaps some of our companies would benefit more from a cut in management during hard times so that the money they save can be invested in those who can change fortunes.

And perhaps then they would actually believe that their biggest asset is their people.

Do We Already Have the Resources In-House?

No matter how much business operators try to convince me, I have never fully bought into the idea of using outside, contract staff.  

Let me explain …

There are times when new people bring a different dynamic to what we do and how we operate and these individuals can play a key role when we don’t have the internal expertise.  However, whilst working in the Pharmaceutical Industry I used to become exasperated when managers declared that ‘we need to hire in external expertise’ before they had taken any steps to determine whether that expertise already existed in-house.

All of us have many talents and abilities which have become latent or hidden over  the years. 

Perhaps we’ve

  • Forgotten about talents we once had or hobbies we once enjoyed
  • Assumed we’ll never need softer, touchy-feely skills so have locked them away and forgotten about them
  • Always wanted to give something a try but haven’t had the chance
  • Been told at school that we’d never succeed in a particular area, even though we really enjoyed it or worse still, were good at it!
  • Been told we’ll never be successful

 … the list goes on and I’m sure you can add your own reasons.

Let’s consider one or two ways in which companies would benefit if they used in-house expertise over hired-in expertise.  Companies would have

  • People working who are already fully conversant with the culture
  • People already established within the social networks of the company, with established relationships across multiple disciplinary areas
  • Chance to develop their people, thereby increasing their sense of belonging and resulting in potentially greater job-satisfaction, commitment and input

I would also suggest that they’d save considerable costs and time delays that inevitably occur when new people are brought into existing structures and cultures.  Contract staff cost more, it’s just that we perceive that they’re easier to get rid of when we know longer need them without worrying about pensions etc and we can often ‘hide’ their costs elsewhere in the figures by keeping them off the headcount!  But what happened if we had people that were so flexible that we didn’t have to adopt or pay homage to the ‘hire and fire’ methods we have become accustomed to? 

The problem is that bringing in people from outside or looking outside of the company is simply too easy.  We don’t have to ask too many questions and we don’t have to worry about changing who we are or what we do.

But coming one step back, wouldn’t it be much healthier for all concerned if companies di take  time to help their staff  discover and develop talents, whether they are forgotten or hidden, so that at least they knew what was in the melting pot.  With information, it is possible to make reasoned decisions.  Making these decisions in the absence of information is dangerous and potentially life-threatening to a company.

Sometimes it is unavoidable that external talent is required to achieve a goal.  My challenge would be, how often could we avoid it and enjoy the benefits by a bit of preparation and enough conviction to take the risk?

The results of ignoring what and whom we have can be very telling and equally catastrophic.  In 1917 Forbes first quoted their top 100 Companies.  When this list was re-visited in 1987, 61 of the original companies were no longer in existence and of remaining 39, only 18 were still on the Top 100 list.  The main reason for dropping off the list or going out of business was that these companies had stayed still and tried to fight what was going on around them.  The 18 companies that stayed in the Top 100 were those that adopted a strategy which embraced change.  And for this, discovery and implementation of creativity within each member of the workforce was key.

We are all creative.  Do our bosses and companies know that?  Have they looked for it or do we perhaps need to find our talents and let those in our place of work know?

Change: Necessary Evil or Exciting Challenge

Change!

It’s a relatively small word, but one that can strike fear into the hardest heart. 

For the last decade or so, we have been constantly told that change will continue to happen, it will continue to happen more often and that the need for change will continue.  We live in times where it would seem that nothing remains constant.

And when we hear about the ‘need for change’ we often become fearful, angry, pessimistic, cynical or just disbelieving!

Yet if we think about our lives, from the time of childhood we have naturally adapted to change.  We grew up, moved house, we changed schools, we made new friends, we lost others.  None of these experiences was particularly easy, but we got through them and we learned in the process. We adapted.  We changed. We fitted in.  Perhaps others fitted in around us.

What were the common features?  Well let’s think about changing school.  I think … 

  • We needed to plan.  A new school meant perhaps new subjects, new books, new challenges.  With the help of teachers we planned for our new venture.  And where we didn’t or couldn’t, it was all the more difficult to make a good start.
  • We understood the message.  We knew we were going to a new school and we knew when.  It wasn’t a surprise when it happened.  We may not have liked the idea, but we settled in much more quickly when we bought into it and accepted the change.
  • We needed to adapt to survive.  We moved to a new school and needed to learn the building plan, the teachers, the new timetable, in order to operate effectively within that environment.  If we moved to a school where we were met by friendly faces who helped us settle in and showed us around, we settled in more easily.  If we were left to fend for ourselves, it was much more difficult and a much less pleasurable or easy experience.
  • We needed to change some behaviours.  Some things that were acceptable in our previous school or at our previous age level needed to be modified or adapted to the new environment or culture.  Some things different.  We had to know the difference and act accordingly.
  • We formed new relationships (and perhaps lost some).  In our new environment we met new people, perhaps whom we had never seen before, and built new relationships.  Some didn’t get off to a good start.  Others worked immediately, perhaps because we and our new friend ‘clicked’ in some way that made the process easier.  Some relationships dropped away, for a variety of reasons, but our social and working structure and support changed.
  • We started working according to the new rules.  We adapted to the rules and regulations, we worked to the new timetables and in accordance with the wishes of our new teachers and mentors.  And as we settled in, we also contributed to the life of the new school making our own little imprint in sports, science, arts, mathematics … whatever.  We converted the plan into something personal and made it happen, not only for ourselves but also for others.  If we didn’t, we became familiar with detention, or exclusion, or pain!
  • Our working style became part of us.  As we settled in to the new way of doing things, what we practised became habit, and a pattern for our daily, weekly, monthly routine … until the next change!

The fact is that most of the time we survived.  Unfortunately, as we grow older and often have more control over our life, we fall into patterns of doing things which last for longer periods of time.  Therefore, change becomes more difficult.

We know that for change to be effective, it must be well-planned and executed, but we also know that if we look back into our history we have faced it and come through it … in one piece.

Sometimes the biggest barrier to change is in our minds, through fear of the unknown and a fear that we may not be able to handle it.  But we have in the past.  And that should be an encouraging start.  We may not like the thought of change, but it is here to stay.  So the better we handle it, the better we are equipped to face and conquer the next challenge … and the next change.