In many organizations, a time comes when their people decide to do something new. It's a hard decision. Sometimes these organizations are forced to change; that change is difficult, too, but in a different way. The change I want to consider here is the unforced change — the change we choose. Choosing to step into the unknown creates tensions in the organization that challenge leaders, break relationships, and disrupt power bases. People within these organizations sometimes experience this disruption in very personal ways. Exploring those experiences, and the ways people cope with them, can help us understand how better to plot a course into the unknown.
Let's begin with those who aren't parties to the discussions leading to the decision to change. Their opinions aren't sought. Indeed, they're often carefully insulated from any hint of the coming change. Sometimes the change is announced to them after the information is released to the media and the general public. Sometimes it's never announced. They can feel excluded, devalued, and distrusted.
The experience is painful. When it first happens to people, usually early in their careers, it can feel like betrayal. Some have been very loyal to the organization. Some were even passionate about it. Perhaps they've relocated away from family and friends, to homes better suited to the needs of the employer. And now the employer has made a change, one that seems purely elective on the part of the employer, without consultation, and without any warning.
In careers that span 30 years or more, learning of changes in this way might happen many times. After the second or third such experience, possibly at multiple companies, some people come to expect to be treated not as fully human, but as "human resources." After several experiences of being
excluded from major organizational
decisions, some people come to
expect to be treated not as fully
human, but as "human resources."They become reluctant to identify personally with the organizations that employ them. Initiative and motivation fade. Work becomes a means of earning money, rather than an avenue for seeking fulfillment.
Can anyone be honestly surprised when these people become cynical, resentful, distrustful, or even subversive?
Some organizational leaders accept this as inevitable. They deal with the consequences by removing from the organization those people most likely to adopt "unhelpful" attitudes — usually the older employees, and those whose skills and knowledge are perceived as least compatible with the new direction adopted by the organization. These leaders mistakenly view as a cost of change the loss of experienced people who best understand how existing systems work, and why they are the way they are. Fears of the consequences of "premature leaks" to the public are almost surely exaggerated compared to the losses incurred from cynicism and subversion.
We can limit these effects by trusting more employees, and including them in deliberations about changes to come. People who feel trusted reward with support those who trust them. Next in this series Top Next Issue
Is your organization embroiled in Change? Are you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt? Read 101 Tips for Managing Change to learn how to survive, how to plan and how to execute change efforts to inspire real, passionate support. Order Now!
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More articles on Organizational Change:
- Look Before You Leap
- When we execute complex organizational change, we sometimes create disasters. It's ironic that even
in companies that test their products thoroughly, we rarely test organizational changes before we "roll
them out." We need systematic methods for discovering problems before we execute change efforts.
One approach that works well is the simulation.
- Plenty of Blame to Go Around
- You may have heard the phrase "plenty of blame to go around," or maybe you've even used it
yourself. Although it sometimes does bring an end to immediate finger pointing, it also validates blame
as a general approach. Here's how to end the blaming by looking ahead.
- Training Bounceback
- Within a week after we've learned some new tool or technique, sometimes even less, we're back to doing
things the old way. It's as if the training never even happened. Why? And what can we do to change this?
- When Fear Takes Hold
- Leading an organization through a rough patch, we sometimes devise solutions that are elegant, but counterintuitive
or difficult to explain. Even when they would almost certainly work, a simpler fix might be more effective.
- Good Change, Bad Change: II
- When we distinguish good change from bad, we often get it wrong: we favor things that would harm us,
and shun things that would help. When we do get it wrong, we're sometimes misled by social factors.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming May 29: Newtonian Blind Alleys: II
- Some of our decisions don't turn out well. The nature of our errors does vary, but a common class of errors is due to applying concepts from physics originated by Isaac Newton. One of these is the concept of spectrum. Available here and by RSS on May 29.
- And on June 5: I Could Be Wrong About That
- Before we make joint decisions at work, we usually debate the options. We come together to share views, and then a debate ensues. Some of these debates turn out well, but too many do not. Allowing for the fact that "I could be wrong" improves outcomes. Available here and by RSS on June 5.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.