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A glass half full approach to change management.

by Sonia Chaudhry

What do I mean by this?

In the world of change management, we often work on the assumption that people in organisations don’t like change; that change is viewed as something negative and which will be resisted or ignored for as long as it can be. This assumption frames and influences the approaches that change managers use, and the ways that we go about implementing organisational changes. I’m interested in the possibilities opened up by stepping outside of that framework and questioning that assumption. What if we were to believe that change is positive and something that people are drawn towards? Could this belief be the determining factor in whether change succeeds or fails?

Let’s consider the principle of the self-fulfilling prophecy; the idea that if we assume that something will be the case, this is often then what it becomes, or in other words, our perceptions become reality. If we believe that change is something that’s unwelcome, how can we expect it to be adopted with enthusiasm? Introducing change with a ‘glass half full’ attitude; thinking of change as something positive and exciting, is an approach more likely to result in success.

In my experience of the field, I’ve seen a lot of change managers build their approaches to business change activities around the beliefs that;

  • The organisation doesn't want to change
  • The organisation’s people are not interested in the change
  • There isn't the right level of cross-organisational join-up and coordination to achieve the change

In practice, this often means that a lot of time is spent discussing these issues, but there is no real agreement on any solutions or actions to overcome such challenges, perhaps because these issues don’t actually exist in the way we imagine them to.

Weighing up both sides

Adopting a glass half full approach to change management is of course not a guaranteed way of implementing successful change in a business, and nor is it a substitute for how we as change managers therefore plan, communicate and implement change. However, as a starting point, it may help to more usefully frame how we approach the change, and so could lead to a higher rate of organisational changes being implemented successfully.

When we consider the negative assumptions of our change managers, have we ever actually challenged them, or questioned whether they were based on fact? The answer is usually no. Similarly, when we consider the psychology of our change managers who hold such views, they tend to carry a lot of "scars" from previous projects or companies where a change hasn’t landed so well. This risks leading them to assume that all organisations view change in the same way and therefore should be treated similarly. This really isn't and shouldn't be the case.

When our default beliefs about change do in fact reflect reality, it’s worth noting that, and asking not only how we can overcome the aversion to change but also why we are implementing the change and why there is such resistance to it.

When we take a glass half full approach to change management, even if this is just a change of perspective, it still causes us to think about, plan, and structure our change management activities differently. This can mean that the perception itself starts to become the reality; the change is received more positively if we approach it as something that will be positively received.

Conversely, a glass half empty approach to change management can mean that the perceived value of doing change management diminishes. The project becomes fixated on the technologies or capabilities being developed, and less on how the organisation and its people will be impacted as a result. This leads to the need for change management on major projects not being prioritised until it is too late to lead the change successfully. I am sure there are many change managers who have experienced this.

What you should do

The solutions to this bias are simple. The next time you are assuming the role as change manager on a project, ask yourself if the choice you make to take the glass half full or glass half empty approach to change management is based on perception or on reality. Be open to the way that the organisation actually works, rather than assuming that the attitudes and issues that you’ve encountered elsewhere will hold in every organisation. Similarly, resist allowing the perceptions of other change managers to taint yours.

Changes in an organisation tend to be introduced to make processes or ways of working more efficient and more effective; this will of course be of interest to the people of an organisation, and, in theory easy to generate buy-in for too. If change is framed not as something negative, but as something that will make people’s working lives easier, change-resistance starts to disappear. If you don’t assume that people will resent change, it’s easier to frame it as something that they’ll appreciate, and so to implement it in a way that people welcome – and I’ll raise a (half-full) glass to that!

Looking at the bigger picture, companies themselves can also work to change their organisation’s relationship with and reaction to change. This is becoming increasingly important, and arguably a determining factor in an organisation’s ability to remain competitive and dynamic in an ever-evolving environment. Organisations must be able to leverage continual change and improvement through making it an integral part of its operation and culture, to better its performance and success.

Want to read more?

Keep an eye out over the coming weeks for further releases of blogs relating to change management, where I’ll be hoping to continue provoking thought. The rest of this blog series will be exploring topics such as the importance of modern businesses embracing change as part of their culture, and, why the role of change managers is so important to avoiding the realisation of dis-benefits from major organisational investments. Watch this space!

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