All posts by Simon Black

Change and work: more misplaced assumptions

Conventional wisdom has tended towards considering change in the context of ‘programmes and projects’. However this approach does not easily lend itself to embedding change into day-to-day work. For example a common misconception is to use ‘training’ as a method to secure change, when other influences need to be addressed first. A second commonly ineffective method is to use ‘communication’ (telling people about the change), but this will have little impact in terms of real change.  Leandro Herrero (2006) recognises this misconception and suggests that the most important focus should be on behaviours. Seddon (2005) emphasises that work behaviour driven is by a change in thinking; how we see what we do and why we do it.

The change of perspective is subtle but important; for example there is the misconception that “New processes and systems will create the new necessary behaviours.”  Herrero (2006) suggests that instead it is new behaviours that are needed FIRST  to support new processes and systems. If you change a system first, people will adapt their behaviour BUT it may not be the behaviour that you want – it will depend on a variety of other factors. If you s=get the thinking right first then the design of improved systems will follow.

This brings us to challenge a third misconception, “People are rational and will react to logical and rational requests for change”; often we are individually and collectively much more complicated. Instead, people’s behavioural changes only happen if they are reinforced; leaders need to walk the talk and be consistent in the way they prioritise, make decisions and use resources in line with the change they expect to see (Seddon 2005).

Part of this is to embed continuous improvement and a culture where change is expected – a normal part of work. This is change with purpose, seeking improvement (rather than change for change’s sake). This contradicts a further misplaced assumption that “After change you need a period of stability and consolidation”  – on the contrary, we need a culture of continuous improvement, involving an on-going dialogue about what works and what doesn’t work and a mentality that makes things happen. Establishing these new behaviours as a routine means that momentum can be maintained.

Change is a balancing act!

 

Read more on change…

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

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

Highlighting misplaced assumptions: the myth of leadership-driven change

In the past 15-20 years there has been an increasing trend towards viewing leaders as the change agents and transformers of organisations; this view even has its own brand name ‘Transformational Leadership’. Although many of the suggested ‘transformational’ leadership behaviours are well researched, the inevitable catalogues of ‘best practice’ have resulted in the embedding of incorrect assumptions about managing change. Leandro Herrero (2006) is one author who challenges three such misconceptions.

A vision for change need not come solely from leaders

First, Hererro challenges the misconception that:

Only change at the top can ensure change within the organisation”.  Not true

Change at the top is desirable, but it is not always necessary in the first instance. Leaders can be influenced by others and people across the organisation need to realise that their own ideas can make a difference.

A second incorrect assumption is:

“Vision for change needs to come from the top and cascade down”.

Not necessarily and cascades of information and ideas can be slow and ineffective.

Vision may or may not come from the top. More importantly, if people want to implement change, then working through the hierarchy may also NOT be the best method and may even impede progress. There are better ways to devise, test and implement change in a way that will stick and this possibility challenges the final misconception:

Big change requires big actions”.

Big changes in complex organisations can make things worse rather than better.

A big, organisation-wide programme is not necessarily the best method to engage people and make things different.

If we always expect leaders to be the source of change it will put the brakes on progress. Leaders do however have the key role of encouraging people, looking for opportunities and providing an environment where people are not threatened by change, but are encouraged to make a difference. Small sets of behavioural changes, taken on and shared by informal groups of people can generate improvements in a non-linear way, as Hererro terms it, a ‘viral’ spread. If we engage in new ways of thinking and acting we can influence the people around us and engage in the development of the university in a new way.

Read more about these ideas:

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

Kick out the old assumptions about change

‘Change’ is a hot topic, sometimes exciting and engaging, but all too often an issue which leads to disappointment, frustration, uncertainty; even suspicion, fear and resentment.  Concerns may be raised from the direct impact that changes have on people’s work life, but are also often caused by the way change is implemented or the expectations placed on people during the change.

It is rather easy to copy the received wisdom about change and how it should be ‘done’. However it is sensible to challenge many of our assumptions which, whilst perhaps being well-established and apparently plausible, are actually incorrect (Herrero, 2006). We need to take care; if we follow the wrong assumptions, we are likely to make mistakes.

John MacDonald, a leading management practitioner and writer, who sadly died earlier this month, frequently challenged what he saw as ‘Mindless Change’ – where each new fad leaves “another layer of barnacles that in time encrust the organisation and impede progress”. His observations remain relevant in the current climate of change in Higher Education – how do we avoid the crush of ‘initiative overload’?. MacDonald tells us that organisations need to get back to managing the ‘business,’ organically incorporating only those changes and practices that can actually improve their operations.  For us, this means improving value for students.

We shouldn’t view the university as a management machine that is impervious to anything other than a major overhaul. Instead we should see things as a human system: people, the work that we do, the interactions we have with each other, the physical environment that we create and use. These are the routes to change.

Stephen Covey’s famous ‘7 habits of highly effective people’ calls us to think about how we, as individuals, can influence wider change through our own behaviour and choices.

When we consider change, we need to keep in mind the question:

“why are we doing it like this – is there a better way?”

 

Some helpful sources of reading relating to this blog include:

Covey, S. (1989) 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Simon & Shuster, New York, NY.

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

MacDonald, J. (1998) Calling a Halt to Mindless Change, Amacom, UK