Don't rock the boat

We want change. Don’t rock the boat.

I’ve learned to interpret this sentiment, whether implicit or explicit, to mean “make the change seamless” “don’t upset people” “don’t disrupt the current operation” and “keep the noise low”.

Can that be done? Is it even possible?

Actually, it is.

Then why isn’t it done?

There are three reasons:

  1. The people managing the change know only one way to ‘do change management’. They approach every organizational challenge with the same process, procedure and tools. No matter how they dress it up, it’s the same approach and failure is always blamed on an inherent weakness of the client.
  2. The people managing the change assume the organization’s tolerance for risk, expenditure and approach. They come with ‘the way’ to do it and present that way and the budget. Usually they call out risks but the overriding (heard) message is that ‘this is the way it should be done’. When things start to unravel some way into the change executives will question the approach. The reply is often a faltering “I thought you’d want to do it as cheaply as possible” or “it’s the way the consultants told us to do it”.
  3. Executives aren’t brave enough to try a different way. Rarely, execs will be presented with a choice of approaches. A choice ranging from dictate to stealth. A choice with varying levels of cost, risk and approach. It’s a very rare executive who says “you know what, I’m prepared to back this and go with what I believe will be the best approach in our culture”.

I’ve seen all three of these played out, and even some overlap. I’ve managed change from dictate to stealth.

In every single instance where the result was ‘successful change without rocking the boat’ it was because an executive:

  • Understood the culture of the organisation
  • Demanded options (or asked people who always provide them)
  • Worked through the risks of the various approaches
  • Was brave enough to choose what would work for their organisation
  • Supported the implementation.

Change isn’t hard. Like everything just make sure you use the best approach – for your organisation.

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