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Change is like a holiday

Have you ever been on a holiday? I’m sure you have. And I’m sure that you can recall a holiday that didn’t work out the way you had thought it might. This might even be how all your holidays run. You choose a location to spend your time based on your expectations of the weather, or the rest and tranquillity it will offer, or the promise of excitement, or the proximity to friends you haven’t seen for ages. And then at the end of your holidays you’ve paused for a moment to reflect on just how things had not worked out as you initially imagined.

Somapmetimes the holiday starts well but then things go awry. Perhaps it’s the other way around; the holiday is uneventful until someone you hadn’t expected walks through the door, or bumps into you on a street, at the beach, or while you’re out for a walk. And then there is a rush of moment after moment right up until the time the holiday comes to an end and you go back to your day-to-day. For some of you, perhaps, your holiday has meant that your day-to-day will never be the same.

Does this ring true for you? Can you put yourself into this picture and recall, at least to some extent, the unpredictability of events and the impossibility of planning for them? If you can then you can use this experience as a metaphor to understand the fickleness of organisational change.

This is the world in which I work and the world about which I am going to write in this blog. The holiday metaphor serves to illuminate this world rather well. For the way we approach going on a holiday, the way we plan and the risks we are willing to take, and the goals we each have for every holiday we take serve to remind us that organisational change isn’t a linear, repeatable, templatable process that can only be approached one ridged way every single time.

Like a holiday, there will be, depending on your view of the world, some things that are a must. On a holiday some will be inclined to take out travel insurance, others not so. Some will have plenty of money put aside “just in case”. Some will focus on getting fit so that they have the best chance of getting through the challenges they set for themselves, others will read the NYT ‘best seller’ list to make sure they have everything at their fingertips to enjoy their time. And other will want to do something different to last time, or plan for activities that the kids will love, or spend time improving their yoga. No matter our ‘musts’ we will all start out thinking about our holiday with at least one goa in mind. And based on this goal, and our predispositions, we will do some things to prepare for this journey. So it is with organisational change.

With change, though, the goal is a shared goal. That means, at some point, the ideal change ‘destination’ has to be one that everyone who is expected to change chooses for themselves. Think for a moment of the implications of forcing someone to go on a holiday they don’t want to go on. How much energy would that involve and what that would do to your holiday? Or taking someone with you who said “yeah, that sounds great” but who, on starting the holiday, avoiding every chance to participate and instead stayed in their room. These, and the many other scenarios you can probably imagine, don’t make for a great holiday and they certainly don’t make for a great change experience either.

The way we prepare, and the way we live our holiday too, will be different if we are going as a group rather than as an individual. There will be many more conversations and many more points of view. At times we might wonder if going together is worthwhile, and how much easier it would be to go alone. And we’ll wrestle with this tension until we remember why we want to be part of this group in the first place and then we’ll let the tension subside and just get on with making the most of all of these views. And when all the dust has settled and the holiday is a memory we’ll realise the value of some of those points of view. Some turned out to be more practical than others, but all were necessary even if only for the conversation that moved us all forward.

I’ve got four key points:

  • Change is purposeful.
  • Change is optional; everyone who goes on the change journey must choose to go on the journey for themselves. And they must commit to journey’s goals no matter where the trail they find themselves.
  • There is no one ‘right’ way of planning for or undertaking change but there is plenty of valuable information available (and lots that is useless too). Interestingly, much of the information that will make the journey worthwhile is within the group taking this change journey with you.
  • Change can be quite unpredictable, however, if approached flexibly and thoughtfully, there is much more than a fair chance that most will make it through.

That’s it, my first post. Let me chart the course ahead a little. The posts I make in this blog won’t be conventional. I work as a change manager but I don’t dye myself with the colour of change management cool aid so my views will come from many quadrants. I won’t write about a single approach to change because all organisational change situations are different and alternate approaches may just offer a valuable insight that makes all the difference. I read and research academic literature but I consider myself more action oriented and practical – a ‘pracademic’ as a friend once suggested. I do find the process of writing helpful as a way to make sense of my change experiences and those of others. Finally, I welcome feedback because your views are really worthwhile and I find most well-formed feedback very worthwhile.