I love change, and variety and adrenalin. My first bungee jump was 216m (650ft) high in Bloukrans Gorge, South Africa. What a rush. My whole life I have had awesome fun doing new stuff and having fun. I have also spent unreasonable amounts of time, working on, and being willing to re-invent, “me”. Overcoming some unfortunate disadvantages of my youth, some personal tragedies, the usual career decisions that we all face, etc.
So it would seem right that I am adept at, and comfortable with, change… but, I am not.
I suspect I am not alone in this. Change is hard. I don’t care what anyone else says, change is hard. Some people may be willing to undergo the change process readily; and others may need to be dragged kicking and screaming, but change is always hard.
That is why corporate – and personal – change programmes fail so often.
Is there a way we can increase the chances of success, when we pluck up the courage to execute a change? I think there is.
It is all too easy to declare a season of “corporate change” open, and then try and change a company, or a team. We can put programmes in place, do our communications and our presentations, and our sophisticated roll-outs. And for a while there is a semblance of change, like trying to wake up a sleeping kid (trust me on this one).
We walk into the room; announce the need for a change. We repeat until there is movement. There is groaning, and rumbling, and a few shifts and wriggles, and then just as we turn our back and get busy, having done our job, it all just settles back down again into what is comfortable.
Something very simple is missing from this whole process. Something so simple, I have not seen it written on in the context of corporate transformation. I would suggest that there is no such thing as corporate change, or corporate transformation. It. simply. doesn’t. exist.
There is corporate restructuring, but only personal transformation. Plain and simple. And if we do not change the PEOPLE in the organisation – one by one – we are not going to change the organisation. Change is hard because it is personal. And it is unsettling, uncomfortable, and it requires a step into the unknown. Not always the big wide unknown of sweeping change – sometimes everything stays just the same except for a tiny aspect of how we do something. But it is enough to reduce our confidence in “the way things are done” and we become tentative, cautious and wishful for the old ways.
Change requires courage, and people who change are courageous.
We as change leaders need to embrace that change is a deeply personal thing for each individual involved in the process, and we need to find a way to meet them where they are at. For key leaders, those who can influence change and the introduction of it into wider teams across the organisation, this is incredibly important. Those key individuals need to be focused on and brought to a place of deep personal transformation. Because like a fire, it will not be self-sustaining, if there is not enough heat to keep it going. If the flames don’t catch and spread, you don’t have a fire, you just have a pile of blackened wood.
For change to work, it must be seen to work. It’s not a catch 22. That is why one of the most important aspects of change is the role model, the change champion who exudes confidence in the change and models it for everyone to see.
But the change champion cannot be anyone arbitrarily chosen; they need to BE the change they are championing. That is transformation at a heart level. Only transformation at a heart level is credible change. Everything else is role-playing, and it is see through.
Why is it see-through? Because if it is not a heart change, sooner or later, decisions and priorities will show that the old way still rules. Underneath the skin of transformation beats the heart of the old systems. Only a demonstrated heart level change will convince people that they should hop on board for the ride. Only a heart can convince a heart – a mind cannot even convince another mind; much less a heart.
People resonate with inspiring individuals, and they emulate them. Change must therefore be championed by inspiring individuals, who are responsible for making a change “go viral”. A video that has “gone viral” is not a miracle of the Internet. It is made up of millions of individuals clicking on the play button because they sense something worth seeing is there. So it is with change. It has to go viral one person at a time, with individuals drawn into the crucible of change by inspiring individuals.
Our job is to credibly and inspiringly touch individuals with the lived-out message of change. They simply have to want it too.
Change is hard because whoever chooses to change chooses to change their habits, their perceptions, their routines, and their attitudes. They choose a season of discomfort, where the draw of the old familiar way must be fought against until the habit dies.
I love people who love change, they are my heroes.
For change to work, in most cases, it requires a personal investment and a personal commitment from a corporate representative to encourage, support and model transformation, so that it can go viral one person at a time. It’s not a boardroom presentation. It’s not a quick email. It’s not a PowerPoint Presentation or an organogramme (Org Chart).
It’s changing hearts.