October 5, 2022
Whenever I first meet a potential client or am brought onto a new change project, there are three questions I ask: why, why now and why should anyone care about your change? Now the first two have typically been thought through and there are answers for them – not necessarily crystal clear and concise answers, but answers, none the less. However, the third question, in my experience, is rarely even considered, much less discussed or thought through. If it has been thought through, then this is many times expressed starting with the words, “effective…efficient…,” which is what I would call the management spiel. These are not answers that will motivate or galvanise employees and teams to support and adopt a change.
How do we find the answers to this question. I advise using what I call, the “end person in mind” approach (2021) and Simone Fenton-Jarvis calls, “the voice of the people” (2021). So, how do we do this?
Need to think of the people who are the furthest from the decision-making room. I tend to use the avatars, Sam in Norwich or Jane in Tay, to give the end person a name, personalising the approach. We need to think about what they might be thinking and feeling at the current moment in time, before they find out about the change. What has just happened in and outside the organisation that could be impacting them personally?
Has there just been a number of redundancies in the organisation and so they are feeling nervous/insecure? Is there an energy crisis and they are worried about paying the bills? Has the business been growing and they are confident they will be receiving bonus’ as a result? Notice the words I have used: worried, nervous, insecure, confident – how people are feeling about life and the world around them has an impact on their performance in work and that is before we start to think about how they might think or feel and perceive the change.
The world is very complex and multi-faceted with lots of different factors having impacts on people, organisations and change. The key is to understand these different factors, so the right plans, approaches and engagements can be put in place that will help people on the journey of change. And change is a journey, not a destination. So what can we do as leaders?
We can use the holistic approach, which enables an analysis of these different factors by using horizon scanning and trends analysis, along with the organisational development tools. This data can then be applied to the ABChange model I use that outlines the type of change that requires the specific leadership style needed for that type of change. The key is to identify the type of change, as that defines the leadership style needed, not the other way round.
Holistic leadership approach is about incorporating the whole person regarding staff and team to help meet the needs of the business. It entails taking an active role in understanding a person’s individual circumstances in regard to the impact on the whole of the team and organisational performance, i.e. remote work environment. The leader needs to understand the potential personal support mechanisms or hindrances for the individuals in their team. When I was managing a graduate, I did not realise working remotely was not a great option for her because she did not have a space, outside of her bedroom, as she lived in a bed sit. When this became clear, we organised for her to work in a local office, so she could still not have a long commute every day but have a space where she felt she could be productive.
Holistic leaders need to be able to redefine and ensure boundaries and rules are established through a social context. They will need to have a high level of emotional intelligence to demonstrate benevolence of others, the intellectual capability to get the job done, and communicate messages consistency and frequently so staff have a complete awareness of the expectations and requirements needed to interact and be a member of the organisation in a consumer like construct.
Lastly, when leaders think they know the answers to the three big “why” questions and have gone through the process outlined above, the final step they need to take is to test their theory – after all, that is all it is at the moment – theory. So, to make it real, need to talk to people that are furthest from the decision-making room, either through surveys, or focus groups, team meetings or a number of other interactions. This will then give you a real measure of what people are thinking and feeling now and potentially about the change, which then gives you a realistic indication on the organisational readiness for change.
In conclusion, to really answer the question, “why should anyone care about your change,” leaders need to step outside the curtain, take notice and find out what is going on around them and their people. To plan change from the ‘ivory tower’ will only typically produce results that are fit for that ivory tower – not real life.
Jennifer Bryan is a published author, speaker and Director of Change and Leadership, who has worked with nearly 40 different organisations across multiple industries. She is also a Non Executive Board Member of the ACMP (Association of Change Management Professionals) UK Chapter. She believes in helping people – in whatever capacity she can – by making sure people are thought of first, last and throughout change projects and programmes. She has created a unique leading change framework, the ABChange Model, and uses her commercial insight to help lead people in change. Jennifer is author of Leading People in Change – A practical guide.