Change & the frog syndrome: Why change does not happen?

I have worked in different companies and always wondered why change never happened. I studied Organizational Sciences in an attempt to understand why change strategies fail 70% of the time. I have read, discussed and observed bad communication, ineffective leadership, self´sabotage and many other factors that influence negatively change. I also found reinforcing information on how to create a functional change process. I decided to become a consultant in order to accompany companies. I am sure we can increase the change success rate by taking into account the human side of change. As individuals change is difficult even if we aim for a better work-life balance or to become a better employee / leader. Putting our ideas into action is difficult as we have to change our habits. At the organizational level it becomes even more difficult. It is not only one person trying to change it is a team, a department, a whole company... This group dynamic is difficult to apprehend. In this post I want to warn you about a trap in which I have seen too many companies fall.  

The consultant point of view: Managing everything but change

As a consultant. I faced disappointment. I was called in to analyse a company process and realized that the thing expected from me was to confirm that something went wrong. The decision to do something about the "problematic" process belonged to a higher level of management which I was not in contact with. I had little to no influence on the change process itself. It made me think and think again about how I could improve my intervention in the future. I realized how important it was for me to not only look at problematic processes but also do something about it. When I asked people involved in the process few months later. I heard the same complains from employees. Unfortunately, I am not the only consultant facing: Resistance to change. It is for sure a 2-ways dynamic where both the consultant and the client could better work together. 

Pain is the only reason why people and organization change but we are like frogs in boiling waters. We wait until it is too late...

Now, why do some companies change while others just cannot do it? It is all about feeling pain. If the current situation is not painful or unpleasant enough then companies stay where they are. Think of those frogs that are put alive in a pot of water. The cook increases the temperature until the water boils. The frog remains in the water because it does not feel the temperature increase, the pain. It will only react at the last moment but it is too late. The frog has no more energy to escape. This frog syndrome takes place in companies too. They are boiling in their own water. Some consultants outside the pot see it coming and try to alert the company. It does not listen because it is so comfortable. They know their pot very well and do not care about finding another one. They do not suffer. In companies, you need very alert and sensitive employees that cannot stand the increase in temperature. You need pessimist frogs. The one that jump out as soon as something is wrong. The one that see the danger coming and alert you. First of all you need to listen to them. If you are not ready to listen. Do not come later and complain about a failure.

Metrics as an alarm system to avoid the frog syndrome...

Let's get out of the frog comparison for a moment. How do you know that the situation you are in, is one that endangers your company? Let's look at some metrics because decisions without data is like Bungee jumping without a rope, deadly. You can ask your employees through interviews or questionnaire about their repetitive difficulties. You can use the rich picture methodology to help you visual processes. You can also analyse the employee turnover rate, the satisfaction level or the employee engagement. If those numbers are going in the wrong direction, you must think about the frog.

Alarm system & intervention crew

Putting an alarm system in place is a first step. The next one is to create a change intervention crew because why have an alarm system if it is not linked with a police station? The crew can be made of current employees at different level of the company or organizational development professionals. They will help recognize critical signs while understanding your company and how it ticks. This group should be responsible for the problem analysis and change implementation. The most important is to listen to your employees and develop a solution with them. Communicate about the planned change. Reuse the same metrics to evaluate the evolution. It should help you decide if you have still something to improve.

Learn to listen to your company

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I would love to hear from you and learn more about your experiences and thoughts, just comment this post and I will get in touch with you. 

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