We are running a session later this week for one of our favourite groups of people as part of a high potential talent programme. The topic for this element is energising change and we will cover a range of thoughts and approaches.
One specific we will touch on is how ready are people for change? John Kotter talks about creating urgency. Without urgency you won’t even get people’s full attention in their busy day, let alone their best efforts. Sure they will attend a few meetings, nod in the right places – and then go on and do things as before, dealing with their own priorities. Many people advocate creating a ‘burning platform’, a crisis which forces people into action. This was a popular strategy however this now seems to be contradicted as a way of bringing about positive change, by both experience and neuroscience findings. Fear can just cause people to freeze and not adapt if overdone.
How often do people instigating and driving change first truly assess people’s capability to carry out what is required? Take a look at this view of Niagara Falls (above) from the top of one of the hotels. Whilst there is clearly a rough element you could be mistaken for thinking things are actually quite ordered and from this view you could think about instigating something different, making some improvements. You can’t hear the crashing waves and you’ve got some good ideas.
Now take a look at the film clip from a completely different angle – down below.
The sheer force of the water, the chaos caused and the level of activity makes survival for those here a priority! Getting by is enough of a struggle. Imagine now being given some new duties, values to adhere to or being asked to handle things differently!
Surely nobody would be so dumb as to not consider this? Ask around. I know of many organisations where the folks on the ground and in the middle feel like they are dealing with the full force of Niagara Falls daily and whilst trying to cope with this are being hit with new projects and large adaptations – and also being asked to cut costs. They have no mental capacity to deal with this and not too much will. Their seniors have a lofty view, supported by sheets of numbers that mean they still can’t hear the waves, see the soaking ponchos etc. Watch any episode of Undercover Boss and you will see the same phenomena.
If you are going to have a role in change, yes there needs to be some urgency, however to get that urgency you may need to take an honest appraisal of people’s current capabilities. Building their desire to bring about changes, actually making the changes beneficial to them as well as you and developing their capacities might seem like a step back – but it may help you make faster progress. That is the urgency that is important – theirs not just yours!
An old boss of mine, the splendid Don Hole, once taught me the important thing in working with people is you have to start from where they are right now, not where you would like them to be or where you wish they were. If you do that you dramatically increase your chances of creating change. It doesn’t matter how great your idea is if we don’t have the capacity to make it work!