By Tanner Corbridge, partner for Partners In Leadership who works with business leaders to create greater workplace accountability and facilitates enterprise-wide culture change.
The one constant felt by leaders and entrepreneurs across the business landscape is that change is perpetually happening--and in most cases at an alarming rate.
New competitors, revolutionary scientific discoveries, breakthrough technologies, challenging regulations...the list goes on. And from recent events, even something as "trivial" as a video game like Pokémon Go can cause a ripple effect felt across multiple industries.
No industry is static, and many are driven by forces beyond them. To deal with change--whether it's for obtaining a competitive advantage or just trying to survive--organizations around the globe can either create shifts in their strategies, their products, or their people.
The "Art" and "Science" of Change Management
When it comes to making changes among your people, change management is the answer. Yet many companies aren't prepared to implement change management initiatives.
They either start with a scientific approach, then touch on the "art" side, or worst still, just stick with the science route all the way through, totally disregarding the fact that it is also an art.
The best sequence is art, then science, yet most efforts to manage change flounder or fail because the science of change precedes and usually precludes the art of change. That is a fatal mistake.
The science of change management consists of the technical approach of realigning and redefining roles, departments, and processes across the organization. This approach ensures compliance by focusing on changes to organizational structure, systems, and tangibles.
Once everything looks good on paper, the "scientists" at the top employ a "tell 'em, bribe 'em, then force 'em" approach to facilitate compliance. Brute force is always an option when the art of change is ignored, but it's never sustainable.
When managing change, scientists should begin by listening to the artists. While the scientist is worried about the wires all connecting correctly, the artist is interested in how people feel about the new wiring.
The artists of change management are concerned with the people side, or the culture side, of the change effort. They pay greater attention to how people are experiencing the change and provide counsel that helps to align the change effort to the beliefs and emotions of the workforce.
Applying the Art of Change Management
Artists know that effectively applying the art of change management means addressing three core realities:
1. Human beings resist change. Most become paralyzed by initiatives to change in such a way as to become victims, rather than agents, of change. Without drawing awareness to the tendency, people will naturally undermine the effort by assuming worst case scenarios and intentions at every turn.
Just as art invokes emotion in people, it's up to leaders to inspire positive emotion from their employees during change. Leaders must be at the forefront of managing change and modeling the desired behaviors to strike the same chord in their people.
2. Culture is built on beliefs. In addition to aligning strategic systems, leaders MUST align the belief systems of the organization. Without clarifying, aligning around, and internalizing beliefs that drive the right culture, there will be no real ground rules to tame the jungle.
An undefined culture will evolve down the path of least resistance without a common set of consensual principles. Senior leaders must take the imperative and artful path of painting an imaginary picture of what they want their company to look like in the future.
When this vision is agreed upon, the next step is developing a core set of beliefs that will act as a roadmap and take the company there. These are the principles that every employee, from leadership to the frontline, will demonstrate at all opportunities.
3. Feedback feeds change. Feedback must rise freely, bottom to top, and without filters during times of change. In turbulent industries, this requires flowing feedback to ensure adjustments are effective and prioritized.
To facilitate feedback during the change, sometimes a more rigorous feedback process is needed, but from an art-side, it's vital that feedback also happens organically. Ensure you have an environment where open and candid feedback is embraced, not feared.
Creating awareness around these change realities is central to applying the art of change management.
Old school scientists, who don't have time to listen to the artists, create volatile change management environments. Their unbalanced approach can become a recipe for high turnover and disengaged talent.
Because "people" are the center of all of it, don't ignore them--it's time to give artists a seat at the change management table.