Change management (small scale)

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Now while you have all been travelling to distant shores, sunning yourself by the pool and wrestling with decisions on which cocktail to order next, I have been witnessing the transformation of my kitchen. (I knew you would be jealous.) What wouldn’t you give to be here in the grey cloud that is our British summer, watching the centre of your home disappear into a skip?

The good news is that after the highly destructive first phase, the new stuff has gone in, exciting white goods have been installed (as exciting as white goods can be) and the achingly slow painting process is nearing the end. Suddenly it’s looking like we imagined on paper all those months ago when we planned it.

Change (however much it is wished for) is uncomfortable. I am now a world authority on microwave meals. I didn’t realise how much I enjoy cooking until I wasn’t able to cook. I can’t find anything easily as everything is temporarily stashed away in boxes in another room. To wash up or make a cup of tea, I’ve been keeping fit by dashing up and down two flights of stairs to the sink in my tiny art room in the loft. All very minor inconveniences in the big scheme of things.

However, it is such tiny aggravations that invariably cause the most upset when change happens within organisations. As part of my MSc a couple of years ago, I did some research into why the vast majority (an estimated 70-80%) of change programmes fail. I interviewed managers who had either led change programmes, or been affected by them. Having been through several major change initiatives in my own corporate career, it was a subject close to my heart.

One of the common themes that emerged was how people hated having their daily routine disrupted. Going to a different location, fitting in with a different culture in a merger or acquisition, different hours, different team, different boss. Change demands effort. We have to consciously think about doing things differently, rather than running on autopilot. And that’s why it is so exhausting. In the current climate, people in organisations are expected to change, then change again, then – just as they’ve settled into a new routine – change again. For many, a kind of change ‘saturation point’ has been reached; like a sponge that simply cannot absorb any more water (Conner, 1993). A certain cynicism about ‘yet another’ programme sets in (from managers and their teams).

A reason to believe in the overall purpose of the change programme can help individuals to adjust, as can having some degree of ownership, control and choice. As Langer (1989) put it, “The opportunity to make choices increases our motivation.”

In having a huge degree of control and choice in our tiny project, we have put up with all the minor irritations that go with the exercise. Those who simply feel herded like sheep into someone else’s grand plan may be less compliant.

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