We like focus. Focus is good. Things get done. But the focus on cutting down a tree in the forest, while shifting boulders and chopping down other trees at the same time requires having an overview. Otherwise, this ‘focus’ could turn into a fatal mistake.
In today’s world, ‘The focus trap’—or ‘ego trap’ as we sometimes call it—leads to companies implementing multiple changes, thereby creating unnecessary inefficiency as well as unacceptable levels of stress and fatigue in their organisations.
We all know that the rate of change today is very high compared to just ten years ago. Change pressure requires great adaptability, and several change initiatives often need to be implemented within the same time period.
Adaptability is now more important for long-term survival than strategic plans that extend for years to come because in today’s fast-paced environment, many companies need to revisit and revise their strategic plans all over again just a few months after creating them. And in larger companies with lots of employees, this is much more difficult than it is in smaller companies. But today’s reality requires a high degree of adaptability – even for the big players.
The aspects of change
For management – and indeed for the whole organisation – achieving a higher degree of adaptability poses a mental and cultural challenge. It’s not easy to implement various stages of a change initiative in a specific order and according to a rigid schedule.
Reality itself is a constantly moving target that involves – and demands – continuous adjustment. We often meet companies that make radical changes in their organisations, workflows, technology support and information management – all at the same time!
The motive is the transformation of the entire business, from the old way to the new. Old truths, culture and proven methods are no longer competitive enough. In some cases, they’re on the brink of being obsolete. The owners and management are often well aware that it’s about maintaining market relevance, and perhaps ultimately about their very survival as a company.
But whatever the motives, the challenges of transformation remain—the greatest of which is a lack of cohesion between the operation and direction of a company’s processes, people, technology and data.
How does this challenging situation affect employees and their ability to change? What does it mean for the thousands of people in larger companies who are expected to keep up with and adopt new ways of working?
Just like the company as a whole, the working life of an individual employee consists of several aspects. And when the employee feels content in all of these, they are happy, productive and willing to change.
What are these aspects? Firstly, the degree of confidence one has in their own role and position in the company affects their feeling of security, and thus their willingness and ability to embark on a journey of change.
Another important aspect for an employee is the feeling that they can actively participate and personally contribute during the journey of change.
The final main aspect is simply knowing that they’re learning while bringing in the new – retaining and using some of what they’d ‘learned from the old’ – while continuing to deliver in the present.
So, security, participation, and personal development are fundamental to all change.
The challenge many times is how do I make deliberate changes when so many change initiatives are going on at the same time? How can we accelerate one change movement while other change movements are going on at the same time?
Let’s look at one of the aspects mentioned above – the feeling of security. Maybe if we implement our change initiative, and no other change initiative is going on at the same time, there are no problems with the feeling of security for the people in our target group. But, if we do it at the same time as three other initiatives, the balance can be upset, and our initiative can be “affected” by the whole change situation.
A big tip for all leaders and change communicators is to take the target group’s work situation into consideration as much as possible. For this, it’s absolutely essential to start with the realisation – and the acknowledgement – that their work situation really does matter. And this isn’t just about helping them to absorb the new ways and change their behaviour. Most crucially, it’s about the change initiative’s success, as they´re the ones who work closest to the operational reality.
Even for the most driven project managers who might be responsible for introducing a new work tool, there are purely selfish reasons for bringing in methods based on both human psychology and a holistic view.
If this group can show that they have control over their way of planning, communicating and following up in their change initiative; that they genuinely care; and that they pay attention while pushing for what’s needed, the likelihood of a successful change increases greatly.
Practical tips for the change communicator
If you have a good holistic overview, your life as a communicator will be much easier.
If not, here are a few tips:
- When you do your stakeholder mapping, don’t forget to ask about which stakeholders know about any other change initiatives going on in the receiving organisations during the same time period.
- When you do your target group analysis, conduct surveys about what the receiving organisations have going on right now, and what they know about what’s coming up in the near future.
- Use these insights in your planning and narrative about ‘your’ change initiative. A strong foundation for trust and credibility is to show that you know and care about what they’re going through!
Successful change implementation can be attributed to companies building upon an inherited foundation in communication and leadership. Avoid introducing new initiatives without a clear foundation. The level of avoidance depends on your organizational foundation.
Skipping middle managers is a common mistake. They may lack knowledge or not have gone through the personal change process themselves. This is due to their being overlooked as a change communication target group. A middle manager acting as a change leader is the strongest communication channel to drive change.
Improperly preparing for change is a common trap to avoid. Rolling out new working methods or tech solutions without target group analyses, planning, or cultural comparisons can lead to ineffective solutions. Ensure proper preparation to avoid frustration and avoid forcing square pegs into round holes.
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