3 Surprising Truths About Change

4550903693_048f38e925_o This post was written by Craig DeLarge

Everywhere you go these days you hear about change and its management. I often marvel at this as change is no new thing. It is the constant nature of the cosmos and why anything happens at all. I hear that, in current times, change is accelerating. I wonder if this is objectively true, or just our subjective perception, and driven by so many marketers for whom obsessive attention to change is profitable, but I digress.

As a student-practitioner of change management (I rather say shaped, shepherded and guided), I have learned that getting the change one wants (amid the change that always is) requires great patience, persistence, discipline, savviness and a touch of luck.

In my studies, there are at least three things about change which  are most daunting to me:

1) Change is continuous and when you think you are done, you are only transitioning to some new phase which hopefully continues in the direction you were working on, and not some other.
So often in my experience, I have witnessed the pendulum of changes executed and undone partially and sometimes completely. John Kotter talks about the idea that one of the most prevalent failure factors of any change project is the declaration that it is successfully executed, and over, causing the status quo to reassert itself. The better declaration is that any change project is progressing to its next stage. As change is continuous, so should be any change project. I wonder if such a shift in perspective would result in more truly successful change projects out of recognition of its ongoing nature.

2) Change requires self change and self care if you want to survive it well and be the authentic force it requires to occur successfully. This is an oft-overlooked element of change management as we change leaders and managers of change leaders run ourselves, and they, ragged to drive change without taking care of our sustained capacity to drive change. We kill the goose, our capacity to shepherd change, in our rush to get the golden eggs, the change we crave. If institutionalized change were a sprint, this would be fine, but we all know that solid and lasting change is a marathon. As it is a marathon, we need to train as such, pacing ourselves. Heifetz & Linsky, published this great article in the HBR, Survival Guide for Leaders, which talks about how leadership is living dangerously and requires savvy play of both inner and outer games if one intends to be around to see the change they are shepherding.

3) Change requires a great deal of opponent management, because change is more easily opposed and thwarted than achieved. It is for this reason that any planned change will take much more time and effort than is ever originally forecasted for it to take. I am more and more convinced our own lack of knowledge, savviness and discipline in approaching the shepherding of change has hurt us. We are good managers of the status quo, but of change, not so much, and even less of managing those who oppose change. This fact calls us to two opportunities as leaders. The first is to be aware of how we, in our words and actions, often unwittingly, are thwarting the change we want to see. This is important given the ease with which change is stalled or defeated. The second is to be savvy in how we engage and influence the forces, personal, cultural and budgetary, that oppose change, lessening their opposition throughout the change process. If we can be more mindful, savvy and persistent around these two opportunities, I am convinced that more of the change we want to see will come to fruition.

So there you have it – the three things that have most surprised me about change from my own research and experience. I really did think that change 1) was periodic and would end after a time, 2) implementable without extra ordinary change and care of my self and 3) implementable without the proper care and feeding of opposing forces. Joke on me, and believe me it has been more times than I would like to remember.

Photo by Steven Depolo