An open letter to Management

November 29, 2007 at 4:22 pm Leave a comment

This won’t apply to you, or your company, so you don’t have to read it.

Honest.

This entire post is a figment of my imagination – none of the following actually happens to me on a regular basis. And certainly none of it happens in any organization you’re acquainted with. Yet… here it is.

I speak on Change Management. After each session, either in dark hallways, or via non-corporate e-mail days later, people ask for my advice on tales of Change Management Horrors going on in their organizations.

They tell of large implementations with no user training.
They tell of top down mandated change with no input from the field.
They tell of disasters resulting in those responsible, promoted out of the debris.
They tell of critical projects totally dependent on totally new technologies.
They tell of mergers where organizational culture is ignored.
They tell of semi-annual re-organizations.
They tell of change for the sake of change.
They tell of failure after failure.

Now there’s little advice to offer when you’re standing outside the organization in question. As in any open heart surgery, you have to stick your hands into the problem, to both see what’s really going on and possibly do something useful. But that’s impossible, because those in pain and begging for help are rarely those causing it.

So I ask if I can come in, and it’s the answers, more than the problems which dishearten me the most.

No – management isn’t listening to anyone who takes issue with their policies
No – the powers that be won’t listen to anything that might change their actions.
No – that’s pointless – management only hires those who agree with them.
No – even raising the notion of bringing in outside help could get me fired.
No – they shoot the messenger on a regular basis – I can’t risk my job.
No – management is convinced there isn’t a problem.
No – the dark overlords know best.
No – management has no interest in people issues.

And then, often enough so that it matters, the next time I hear from them, the change initiative has failed, they’ve been downsized, the company has folded or they’ve quit.

There’s no easy solution to any of this. You can’t wake up those who pretend to be asleep. None of us are truly idiots, even though we all act like it sometimes. I’m of the belief that it’s not that we don’t see the problems in front of us, it’s that we’re optimistic to a fault. We believe that THIS TIME, unlike all the other times we’ve implemented change in this fashion in the past and failed, THIS TIME we’ll succeed. Stubbornness is what we do when we run out of ideas. We keep doing what we’ve been doing regardless of the outcome. THIS TIME we’ll get lucky.

The irony is we know what we should be doing, we just don’t do it.

Here’s an exercise for the reader – if you’re willing to take homework away from a blog – get a bunch of people together (10-20 is a good number) Break them into groups of 3-4. Then have them do two simple exercises.

1) Have them relate change management horror stories to each other. When they’ve each told a story or two – have them indentify the top three ‘actions’ that caused these types of failures to occur. In other words – the worst change management practices in common with all/most of the stories.

2) Have them relate change management success stories to each other. When they’ve each told a story or two – have them indentify the top three ‘actions’ that caused these types of successes to occur. In other words – the best change management practices in common with all/most of the stories.

Now, it’s obvious your mileage will vary – but you should see commonalities between each group (surprise – surprise) AND you should notice that the worst practices are very likely exact opposites of the best practices.

(If you’re a brave soul, and you do the exercise – post your findings as commentary here. It’s good to share. Mom said so.)

The question then becomes – if we know what doesn’t work, and what does work – why are we insisting on so much of the former instead of more of the latter?

But since none of this really happens in the corporate world – you can ignore this offering.

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Entry filed under: Change, Change Management, Communicating, Communications, Leaders, Leadership, Management, Managing, People Sklls, Problem Solving, Soft Skills.

Let’s face it, we’re idiots In Ignorance of Aptitude

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