Organizational change is one of the most difficult goals to achieve
The Harvard Leadership Study recently reported that more than two-thirds of all such initiatives fail to produce the desired results. And it’s not as if companies like yours haven’t been trying. This has been going on for half a century. In spite of these gargantuan efforts, however, less than one-third have managed to do it successfully. Traditionally, there’s a kind of folklore that’s offered to explain the primary reasons for this failure:
External influences and personnel
External factors take into account things such as legislation, especially the dictates of the EU, money already spent for plant and equipment, and lack of the managerial time to implement it. Rarely, however, do CEOs accept responsibility for creating a culture that actually resists the very change he wants to implement. And yet, that is where the root of the problem lies. If the organizational change fails because of others, then much of it is outside of the CEO’s control, and therefore he or she can’t be held accountable. The executive level of the company is often operating at cross-purposes with those who work in it.
Top versus middle and / or bottom
The former is convinced that the problem is at the bottom, while the workforce is convinced that it’s at the top and the guys in the middle swing between trying to get the two ends to meet and trying to keep two poles apart... The top believes that those at the bottom are unwilling to change, and those at the bottom feel that those at the top have either lost the plot or won’t support them if they put improvement ideas forward or look after their best interests even if they do.
Why does each party believe that the fault is not theirs?
It’s based on present realities and past experiences. Present realities include the structure of the organization, the hierarchy, the policies, and of course everyone who works there, whether at the top, middle or the bottom. Past experiences are simply the pattern of behavior in the face of each initiative, and neither sees any reason why that will change either. One problem is that the more pressure we’re put under, the more we tend to do what we already know how to do, we may do more of it or less of it, but more or less of the same behavior will just give us more or less of the same results. Clearly that is not the solution.
The cartoon here clearly demonstrates that the ship is incapable of changing course because the captain, standing on the bow of the ship, wants to go in one direction, those in middle management on the bridge cannot work out what that means and so different middle managers disagree and the crew at the rear control station (otherwise known as your front line), in view of poor or inconsistent communication do what they have always done and the course of the ship simply remains the same
To break the inertia a meeting of the minds is required
The captain needs to stop shouting orders from the bridge, those in the middle need to stop the in-fighting and the crew needs to let go of the past. And then, on neutral ground, perhaps in the galley, the three need to identify the real problem and work out the real solution – together. Most people think communication is a broadcast. As long as I say it clearly people will understand – well they don’t! Communication is a calibration of understanding; if the people you are talking with don’t understand you haven’t communicated. Listening is a better place to start any process of understanding. If we can get all three parties around the same table and listening to each other instead of talking at or about each other things will change.
The captain will probably discover that the crew is willing to change as long as the captain will back them up. Middle management might discover a way to collaborate. And the crew is likely to find out that middle and senior management can have their best interests at heart – and that the orders are an attempt to get the whole ship, along with all on board to a more desirable destination.
As long as everyone keeps talking or shouting at each other and protecting their own backsides the ship will either hit the rocks or go so far off course that those with real talent will abandon ship and try their luck somewhere else...
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