Why Change Management can’t be perfect (as if you didn’t know)

Different communities and groups frequently have different understandings of why ‘change’ occurs and how ‘progress’ is achieved. Leadership and initiatives in such circumstances can be very challenging. Nobody’s interested in Policy Pilots. They want Results.
It’s always puzzled me, and the more I think about it, the more so…..
We all know that
(a) we live in times of rapid change,
(b) the variables in the changes are uncountable, and
(c) to whatever extent, change has to be eternally managed.
In other words, we are solidly aware that the whole process is unpredictable and subject to serendipity at every stage of the game. Plus, there’s never an end. Change is a dialectic as compelling as Time itself.
Why is ‘change’ a worry?
So why do so many people spend so much time criticising ‘Change’, and apparently so little time in general public discourse considering ‘Since Something Is Going To Happen Anyway, What Shall We All Do To Make It A Bit Better?’
Clearly, the myriad of forces which impel change as such also apply to the motivators and causal factors behind any individual’s reaction to that change. There are psychological ones, socio-political ones, geo-economic ones… The list could go on.
There is also however a general cultural factor which probably applies diffierently at different times and in different places, whether we are thinking about huge historical eras or micro-contexts like single workplaces.
Here are some possible scenarios to which one might be able to apply specific examples.. just fill in with your own!
The cultural backdrop
In some cultural understandings – and again these may be micro as well as macro – there is a sense simply that Things Happen. This probably includes amongst other ‘Things’ people who are outside the group, who are perceived with whatever degree of acceptance or resistance to be the agents of the change…. No good communicating with them, because ‘We’ won’t make any impact, so just wait and see, and then judge the outcome.
Then there are other cultural understandings which may suggest that, whilst ‘We’ are aware of what’s going on, the option of complaint later is preferable to taking early responsibility for what arises. The Comfort Zone is visible, but is safer than expending the time and energy which a pro-active response would require.
And finally there are cultural understandings which just fail to appreciate the fluid nature of the process of developing ideas. In this case, people do know how to interrogate proposals and they may well have strong views, but they see every decision and outcome as cast in stone.
This last is a particularly difficult position to address, but one familiar to many of us who attempt to initiate Managed Change.
Vague ideas which leave things hanging…
You perhaps go into a situation with a remit to support constructive developments, and you ask those concerned what they think. Their response is, ‘Well, what do you want?’……
But you know that, come the time when plans crystallise into actions, there will be plenty of advice on What You Should Have Done.
The dialectic of such development is challenging. Not everyone sees any difference between Change and ‘Consensual Progress’; nor does everyone want to. If you as an initiator emphasise the plasticity of outcomes, you are accused of not knowing your stuff; but if you offer directional leadership (is there any other sort?) you are of course autocratic.
It’s all a matter of perspective, as any politician or organisational head attempting to pilot his or her favourite policy will tell you.
Empowering people and communities to believe that things can usually change consensually for the better – that only very rarely is there no space for adjustment – is one of the most difficult aspects of community leadership, whatever the ‘community’.
Perhaps one of the first steps in this direction is the acknowledgement that we all, You, Me, Them, make mistakes; and that it IS possible to learn from and act on these, positively.

Posted on October 26, 2005, in Arts, Culture And Heritage, Education, Health And Welfare, Equality, Diversity And Inclusion, Knowledge Ecology And Economy, Politics, Policies And Process, Regeneration, Renewal And Resilience, Sustainability As If People Mattered, The Journal. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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