I’m going away! (2) – We’re leaving!

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Last week, I wrote that ─as a change management expert─ I like watching the TV show ‘Ik vertrek’ (I’m going away) on Dutch television. This is a show about couples that set out to realize their dreams outside of the Netherlands. Each episode, identical change patterns can be recognized, which makes them genuine transition gems in my opinion.

As easy as their experiences of transition may seem, in practice, changing is difficult.

Just think about it.

We all have wishes and dreams, sometimes even with a very clear goal in mind. However, that’s usually as far as it goes. Is your wish strong enough? Or, is the painyou’re currently experiencing strong enough? Is the genie released from the bottle, or are you too afraid to rub it?

It is not possible to assign any predictive value to transition patterns. For instance, beginning with a goal in mind is one of the recognizable patterns, but in no way does that mean ─ or prove ─ that beginning with a goal in mind always leads to success.

We’re going away!

So, what about organizational change? The 70% failure rate story that has been repeated over and over, belongs in Neverland. Exact numbers about the effectiveness of change simply cannot be determined. Of course, I’m not saying that failure isn’t always lurking around the corner. Heaps of energy are released during organizational change, but one should wonder what the nature of this energy is. I would like to pose that the point where ‘I’m going away’ turns into ‘we are going away’ (as metaphor for organizational change), is the recipe for a guaranteed change dynamic, albeit with an unknown outcome.

Why is that?

The perfect answer doesn’t exist. And if anyone claims to have it, I won’t believe them, for now.

To stay within the metaphor of the TV show, one possible answer is that organizational change can be compared to a sum of the separate ‘I’m going away’-s: you could make a whole show out of every participant and their personal journey of transition. But whether this pile of transition gems can be crafted together into one beautiful necklace, remains to be seen.

Just think about it.

1.    Change starts with a passive aspiration, a long-cherished wish, a dream. But what if your dream isn’t the same as my dream? Or if your dream interferes with my dream? Or if they even oppose each other? You want to go to Portugal, I want to go to Italy. You want a B&B, I want a naturist campsite. You take care of your finances, I cultivate a ‘C’est la Vie!’ attitude. Neither of us are wrong, but who is the most right?

2.    “Begin with the end in sight”, as Covey proclaims. But what if your goal isn’t my goal? What if the CEO is tasked with achieving growth ─and receives a bonus when successful─ but people in the workplace are judged and rewarded for ‘customer intimacy’? That could very well be contradictory, regardless of the personal (private) goals. And do I take action to achieve your goals (see source A)?

3.    What if a major delay in the process makes you nervous, but doesn’t affect me? Or what if the CFO doesn’t want a temporary standstill, or can’t finance one, but under the surface it’s not really a standstill at all?

4.    Or, what if your pace isn’t my pace. If you are further than me in both your thoughts, your actions, and how you feel about the whole thing? The bigger the difference in pace between the travelers, the larger the risk of conflicts (see source B).

Just look at the list in my first blog. Do you recognize anything?

Using the ‘I’m going away’ metaphor, I make a practical journey through insights, comparisons, answers and questions, to contribute to one of the most important questions in change management: how does organizational change work?

It would be nice if I could also contribute to the language surrounding this issue this way. Next time, a couple of prisms to (sub)consciously see through and look at organizational change as employee, manager or consultant.

Reference

Whelan-Berry et al. (2003). Strengthening Organizational Change Processes, Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 39(2): 186-207. Quote A based on: ‘Organizational level change vision may not move employees to (..) individual (..) action or adoption’ (p. 202); Quote B is based on: ‘As the timing becomes less synchronous, conflict becomes more likely’ (p. 203).