Misplaced assumptions about change: does ‘participation’ mean everyone?

Just a few final words to round up my discussion of Leandro Herrero’s challenges to our common assumptions about change. You can see related blogs on the following links:

Highlighting misplaced assumptions about change: the myth of leadership-driven change

Change and work: more misplaced assumptions

“Resistance is useful”: a new assumption?

 

A key learning point for anyone driving change is the important leverage provided by behaviour. When discussing change and improvement I commonly encounter suggestions that what is needed ‘always comes down to communication’. True enough perhaps, but we also need to remember that communication is a product of people’s behaviour (as communicators and as listeners).

The temptation is to allow discussions of communication to lead us down paths of procedure, process and technology, rather than thinking, people, behaviour and habits. The same is true if people’s capability is raised as an issue – ‘we just need more (or better) training’. Again this does not necessarily hit the nub of the problem.

Hererro suggests that we need to shake off the assumption “Communication and training are the vital components of change”. They are symptoms and processes of change rather than the true causes and content that we need to address. The engine of change is often people’s behaviour. However we need to explore this further – commentators such as Deming, Senge and Seddon would point out that behaviours are often caused by other influences. If we want to make change happen, we need to understand and shift those influences and encourage people to adopt the change.

The trend for participative management has led to a paradigm that involving everyone is the only way to success; “Everybody needs to be involved in the change”, but is this really true? Communication-to-all is actually the most ineffective way to reach everybody (the common ‘sheep-dip’ approach, often packaged as training). Instead, we need to become better at using internal networks and these networks need to be directly tapped as active resources to embed new ways of working into the organisation.

Another common comment I have encountered which Hererro also challenges is “There is no point in creating change in one division without the rest of the company participating.”  Herrero himself suggests that instead it is possible to establish change through ‘viral networks’.

 

Check out a range of ideas in these thought-provoking publications:

Herrero, L. (2006) Viral Change, meetingminds, UK.

Seddon, J. (2005) Freedom from Command and Control, Vanguard Press, Buckingham, UK.

Senge P. (1990) The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organisation, Doubleday, New York.

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