Change and the rowing boat

The Great Myths of Change Management

Change management often gets spoken about as a singular activity.

As if it is somehow part of a project or set of To Dos on a programme schedule. You know, “Stakeholder Management”, start date, end date .. etc.

We even have Kurt Lewin explaining how change programmes must unfreeze an organisation, like a woolly Mammoth at the British Natural History Museum, then change things, and put the organisation back on ice. Really!!!!

I’ve spent 25 years in the transformation consulting industry, and I’ve noticed this.

“The starting point of a change project is normally unrecognisable shortly after the kick-off meeting”.

Let me use a metaphor to explain what I mean. We’re leaving one island to travel to another in a little rowing boat. After a short while, the island we left has disappeared under the frothing and turbulent water and is completely gone.

We turn to look towards our destination, only to see that a group of very unfriendly-looking locals has now invaded the once idyllic sandy beach. Going on would mean certain death.

There is another option. A third island sits just over the horizon, but we can’t see precisely what it looks like or where it is.

We have no choice but to change our plans and press on over the horizon

Our concern is not what is but what might be.

We plan to make sure we arrive in one piece. Our food and water are rationed. We take turns on watchkeeping, responsible for the boat’s security. We check our course regularly and keep our spirits high. The outcome is partially unknown, but at least it doesn’t consist of the frothy waters where our starting point used to be.

We wouldn’t have set out without an original plan. But plans need updating regularly, and that’s what we’re doing right now, sat in the bottom of our small rowing boat.

So, success in change management is about something other than great plans or fantastic approaches.

It’s about courage, making good decisions along the way, and, keeping everyone involved, because when you’re out in that little rowing boat, everyone’s committed.

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