Sometimes ago I came across these two great quotes -one from W. Edwards Deming, an economist from the 20th century: “It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.” and –one from Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher from way back in the history of time, centuries and centuries ago, “Change is the only constant”. It’s a fact, either in life or in business, change is the only constant and still we, us people, have this reputation that we do not like to change?
Yes, there is that myth in the world… ‘People do not like to change.’
If that was really true, one thing is sure, couples would never get kids and the human race would definitely not exist! Life is simply built around change. Every single minute is actually a change we cannot escape: we grow old. Okay, the change there is so subtle that we often take hold of it only by waves; but if you remember when we were kids, we were so impatient for that change to happen, for growing up; we were often thriving for changes then. The issue is not so much with the change itself, the issue is with the ownership of the change and the control over its impact.
It’s not change that we do not like, it’s not having the ownership or the control of that change, and the challenge in any change management is actually to give people back the ownership of the change initiated for them.
If you are a movie-addict like me, you may have seen a recent movie called “Two days, one night”. This notion of ownership of change is beautifully shown across that story. Sandra, a young mother, discovers that her co-workers have opted for a significant pay bonus leading to her dismissal. On hearing the news, she retreats in a state of passivity and panic however her husband and two of her friends motivate her to take action, something that seems like a desperate action but still is an action: visiting each of her co-workers and ask them to review their decision. On the following Monday morning, even though not enough of her co-worker support her staying as an employee, enough do for her management to review their strategy: they agree to keep her under a specific condition, which happens not to be acceptable to Sandra, and she refuses it. Yes after all her effort to keep her job and her success at it, she refuses it, calm, determined, strong and very clear headed. What makes such a drastic change in her reaction between the moment she heard the news and that meeting with her boss? The situation is the same, she is still out of job but she has now taken ownership of the situation; she has taken back control of the change and this change imposed onto her becomes a change she chooses.
The art in change management is truly about that transfer of ownership and control and working with the people impacted by the change in a way that they feel empowered to manage that change and act on it. Understanding what creates at times that strong reaction to change is very important. We could argue that it all comes down to identity “our sense of identity”, our notion of “who we are” and that any changes somewhere frighten that sense of identity. The example of the change given above -losing one’s job- is definitely a direct attack on our sense of identity by challenging our social being and representation and our place in our society. One approach to change is then to dissociate the process of change and the identity of people and to help people to develop their “change muscle”.
Developing that “change muscle” is about developing adaptability to whatever happens around us, in a way that we may or may not decide to let it change us. And we can do that with any type of changes. A few weeks ago my house-mate bought a different washing up liquid than I would have, with a very different fragrance than usual. Every day when I use it, I jump at the smell, laughing on how I am still surprised by it and still undecided if I like it or not. The dishes are cleaned well though. Is that fragrance really important? Or is it more interesting to discover another smell, learn to like it, and expand my choices? And still being the same person. I know this is only a washing up liquid story and yet it is a change, and with it I exercise my “change muscles”, my adaptability.
What about you? How are you going to exercise your “change muscles” today?