What happens when change goes bad, and what causes it to fail? There are 4 major violations that kill effective change management:
1. Neglecting to invite key stakeholders into the process before deciding upon a change.
2. Avoiding stakeholder engagement in order to make the process easier and faster- and
telling them about it afterwards.
3. Foregoing an impact analysis in order to "do something", even if it won't solve the
4. Attempting to put lipstick on a pig and sell the change as a fine stallion.
A True Story: What NOT To Do
Last night I attended a school meeting about the redistricting of our neighborhoods. The superintendent sent out a recent quiet memo proposing major changes that would impact our entire neighborhood. I found out through another parent who happened to see the email. The proposal: move our elementary kids to another school to balance headcount and classroom sizes. A hundred concerned parents showed up to the informational meeting to get answers.
Three older white haired gentlemen sat on a tall stage behind a draped table and began their presentation. A picture of wonderful advantages was painted in a "drive-by" powerpoint show. Smaller class size, rankings at the same academic levels, closer driving distance- all were glorified as benefits of the change. The superintendent reassured us that moving our kids around would allow declining growth schools to absorb headcount and balance out the school corporation.
The more they talked, the angrier people became. The parents had done their homework- These "advantages" and calculations simply were not true. Families with elementary students stood to lose on every point from an educational, convenience, and property value standpoint. The plan was proving to be flawed and nonstrategic.
The kids would be moved to a much lower ranked school with the same or higher classroom headcount. The distance for the neighborhood was the same, but with a new Walmart moving in, traffic would be highly congested in the area, which would actually cause a longer commute to the new location. With rapid housing growth in the incumbent school district, kids would have to be shifted around again- soon. Home values would naturally decline, a huge disappointment to families who moved to our neighborhood just for the school. The superintendent's proposal was poorly designed to answer a long term problem with a short term solution that was not going to make a significant impact on headcount- the problem would actually worsen.
Looking around the room, it was clearly a diverse population. As parents viewed the maps, pulling our neighborhood out of the current school district left a huge hole in the middle of the district. One had to wonder why neighborhoods all around us got to stay, and we had to go. Were demographics even considered? It smelled fishy.
One Way to Really Cause a Riot: Pretend To Listen
Finally, the parents were allowed to ask questions, but the the three white haired gentlemen quickly exempted themselves from answering. "We want to capture your questions and respond publicly later in an email. Someone in the back is scribing." The temperature in the room instantly soared.
One by one, parents got up and logically dismantled the proposal while asking questions about the process that led to the decision. Some parents cried and were highly emotional, others came with alternative solutions asking that they be re-evaluated. A few were blatantly hostile, accusing the gentlemen of discrimination and stupidity. The biggest violation noted, however, was the lack of transparency and engagement of key stakeholders: The families who were being impacted by this major change.
The last parent voiced his disgust. "It is obvious you've already made up your mind, and you're taking this proposal for approval in February without even giving us a chance to help. We are leaving here knowing nothing more than when we walked in the door!"
The superintendent sealed the death of his credibility when he responded by blaming the governor and rambling on about unrelated data. If the attendees were in a laughing mood, this would have been hysterically funny.
How This Applies To The Business World
One could easily replace the characters in the story with any organization. It doesn't matter if we are talking about a manufacturing plant, a call center, or a medical office- human nature remains the same. When change is introduced, there is a natural resistance and people work through a change cycle. We aggravate the process when we create the plan behind closed doors with a select few people who "think like us." The result is ineffective change, loss of credibility, and ultimately negative financial impact.
Organizations can avoid a company meltdown and gain faster buy-in by doing the following:
1. Ensure key stakeholders are represented when considering change.
2. Allow stakeholders to be involved in brainstorming while bringing diversity of thought to
the process for better solutions.
3. Work through a process of how the various changes will impact the people involved, and
be prepared to find true "win-win" situations.
4. Never, Never, Never try to put lipstick on a pig. You will lose trust and credibility fast. A pig is a pig. When you have bad news, be transparent early.
People are more willing to help if you present the real situation.
Corporate OD Strategies is an organizational development and coaching firm preparing people for the workplace of tomorrow in large companies. Our HR Management services division focuses on onsite/offsite HR
support for small businesses, as well as advisory services on retainer. Contact us for a complimentary consultation at Angela.Nuttle@corpodstrategies.com
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