One trap that’s pretty easy to fall into is when the change you want to make hasn’t been properly prepared. In other words, you haven’t done your homework.
In recent decades, many companies have been pushing forward, expanding at a rapid pace, and generally seeing the world as their oyster. Many companies have grown through new acquisitions, e.g. by acquiring their local competitors. In recent years, digitalisation of business and operations has accounted for much of the change initiatives that are being implemented.
In both cases, expansion through acquisitions and digitalisation, the existing corporate culture is the biggest challenge to get the push forward that one strives for.
To illustrate the trap of stuffing square pegs into circular holes, we’re going to look at a company that made its way into Europe from their beginnings as local Scandinavian manufacturers.
Through the acquisition of several other companies, they moved into Europe and became a European company. They went from having a few hundred employees to a few thousand over the course of a decade. Although the effect was not intended, after a few years – and a few CEO changes – they got stuck with a huge melting pot of cultural differences, suspicion and change fatigue.
There are many different explanations as to why this didn’t go as well as they’d hoped. For example, some blamed it on fierce competition and new consumer goods. Our conclusion was somewhat blunter.
Firstly, they didn’t make a cultural comparison, to judge how big the differences really were between the Swedish company and the companies they’d acquired. Target group analysis and general planning for how to manage a company’s most important resource – people – rarely gets the attention it requires. And they certainly didn’t work out in this case.
Secondly, the integration of people through involvement was non-existent. Attempts were made to stuff square pegs into circles without inviting employees to participate in the continuing changes.
These are two mistakes made by many enterprises that, with the support of financiers, bought too many companies too quickly. This didn’t work, mainly because of how upper management perceived and involved the employees and operational managers, in both the parent and the acquired companies.
The problem was that the Swedish managers, engineers and salesmen would come in and show people how things should work, with the goal of total integration of work and IT processes, organisational structures etc. But the problems for each newly acquired company grew exponentially. There were cultural clashes, clashes in views and general ways of working.
Unfortunately, if we relate the ‘square pegs in circles’ trap to today’s business world, we still see that new, working methods and technological solutions are being rolled out with the same ‘optimistic expectations’.
Practical tip for the change communicator
For this tip, we’ll focus on the ‘educational battle’ that you as a communicator might need to take on to deliver value to the business.
It’s a tough one. You might not have been involved in the decision making yourself. The expectation on you is to help make change happen. We believe that you as a communicator need to think twice (or more!) every time you find yourself enrolled in a new change initiative. You need to ask questions, and you need to be smart.
To be of high value to the business, you have to defend the truth; in particular, the truths about human psychology and behaviour. A change communicator should be the translator of the sender’s directives, and the spokesperson for the receivers – both at the same time.
This means you need to work with the facts about the receivers and match contemporary science. You need to work on your business case.
If the homework hasn’t been done, and you haven’t properly considered the actual differences between daily activities and what you want to change, you quickly get strong forces of resistance against it. Resistance that is not really about reluctance, but rather about a lack of conditions in the form of competence, motivation and clear expectations.
And out in the marketplace, the reasoning behind adapting to reality becomes even clearer: if the customer doesn’t see the benefit of your new product, they won’t buy it!
A useful tool is the change curve (by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross). If the human change pattern applies on an individual level, what happens to a whole organisation when people spend time in the valleys of denial and confusion? What is the cost in lower productivity? How can we minimise the depth and the duration of the drop in productivity? The answers lie in proper management, leadership and CHANGE COMMUNICATION.