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The Farce of "Cultural Change Management"

     I keep hearing, over and over again, that people are inherently resistant to change and we must combat that resistance.
     Pretty much everything I read about exactly how one should combat that resistance reads like an eight-step guide for producing effective propaganda.

     I don’t buy in.
     Maybe the vision just hasn’t been communicated consistently and often enough to sway me.

     If you tell someone you’re going to make a change to make her job easier (and she believes you – a level of trust that only develops from consistent performance on the part of the management structure) very few will actively resist that change.

     If you’re not making her job easier with this change, by the way, you need to take a serious look at your processes and what you’re aiming to accomplish.
     As I recently mentioned when I was on the soon-to-be-released itSMF Connect, Learn, Grow FM Podcast – Episode 11… When I was an SA, I would routinely circumvent the Change Management process, because it was a bear to deal with. It took a minimum of 20 – 30 minutes to build a change record. Then I had to fill out online forms in anywhere from three to six different systems. Then I had to call up to a dozen people to ensure they would approve my change request in time. All this for something I could change in less than five minutes and I knew was little-to-no risk. I also knew I wouldn’t get caught making the change without a record – if I went about it the right way and covered my tracks. If someone told me they were going to make the Change Management process simpler, I would have eagerly embraced that change and bought the person a beer.
     If your people are willing to exert extra effort and face disciplinary action just to avoid your processes, don’t blame the people.
     Simplifying your Change Management process and automating it as much as possible will not only make your employees happier & more productive, but it will ensure a greater degree of accuracy in information for audit, configuration management, incident management, financial management… the list goes on.
     But I digress…

     On March 14 at 7:30 AM I tweeted:
How to address fear of change: Transparency.
Most are not resistant to change, rather stupidity. They tend to embrace change for the better.

     I also said fairly recently (but I don’t know exactly when, because Twitter has crap search functionality):
Challenge all axioms. The most important things to question are the things we aren't supposed to question.

     What people fight is policy over-correction in the wake of failures – as opposed to genuine desire to refine processes.
     What people push against is summarily overwriting procedures with each new organizational shift.
     What people begrudge is being blind-sided by punitive actions resulting from failing to comply with poorly communicated, or entirely un-communicated, procedural changes.
     What people resist is change that is detrimental to them.
     What people embrace is change that is beneficial to them.

     Far too often, the people who are actually following (or, more accurately, avoiding) your processes not only have little faith that a change will make their jobs easier – but they don’t even know a change is coming until it’s there. This gives the workers the impression that senior management has no clue what their job entails and furthermore, has no faith in their capability or intellect. Unfortunately this impression is far too often correct.
     How often are line workers involved in the decision-making process?

     In a recent blog post (The Promise of the Social Enterprise) I talked about what I missed from my days of working at a start-up… What people want is to have a voice that is not only heard, but listened to. People want to make a difference. People want to matter. People want to be valued for their contribution. People want to be treated like intelligent adults.

     When a decision is made, don’t just tell people what has changed, but WHY.
     It’s pretty simple, actually… Treat your people like people.

     In another blog post (The OTHER Other 4 P's of ITIL (Don't be an ITIL Thumper)) I shared one of my favorite stories from American History…
George Washington was having a HELL of a time at Valley Forge. Supplies were low. Food was low. Disease was running through the troops. It was an inordinately harsh winter… Washington decided to hire a sharp-shooter. He recruited a legendary Prussian General (Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben) to teach the bedraggled farmers and merchants how to be soldiers. General von Steuben noted that he had never before commanded army troops who would question his every order the way these Americans did. He couldn’t simply issue a command and expect it to be followed – they would have to know why. Once the reasoning was explained to them, however, they would respond with admirable dedication.

When this story is told it is often accompanied by fife & snare, playing behind a rugged, masculine, confident, Sam Elliott-esque voice pushing one “Story of America” patriotic hegemonic domination agenda or another.
I don’t think the story says anything in particular about Americans at all.
Revolutionary war troops weren’t “soldiers” – they were people fighting for their families, land, prosperity and lives. They were facing down a direct and palpable personal risk. I love the story because it demonstrates how people who have a real stake in what they are struggling for and genuinely care about what they’re doing (as opposed to those hired to fight someone else’s battles for them) will work with a driving passion to get the job done well – not just look like they have.

     The only valid “Cultural Change Management” is Management Changing their own Culture to one of transparency and employee engagement.
     Management needs to a foster a culture of:
        • Encouraging employees to utilize the capabilities and talents that got them hired
        • Empowering employees to innovate and contribute to organizational direction setting
        • Instituting a forum for employees to voice their points of view
        • Instituting a two-way open communication policy
        • Rewarding and recognizing employees for their contributions

     Another discussion that tends to be much more complicated than it should be is how to reward people for those contributions.
     When I listen to people discuss what can be done to reward people and “shape the corporate culture,” I often can’t help but think of Pavlov’s Dog. Give the little puppies treats for following your directives and they will follow your directives (or more likely, find ways to fake it) but is that what you’re looking for? Do you want little, robotic extensions of you or do you want bright, dynamic people who will bring value to your organization by scrutinizing the way things are done and find better ways to do them? Do you want a bunch of nodding, bobble-headed yes-men or do you want to be challenged by alternative perspectives that will drive progress by disrupting status quo?
     A manager demands compliance – a leader encourages innovation.
     Trinkets, tricks, badges, wall plaques… Please stop insulting your employees with cheap platitudes.

     If Pavlov is at one end of the ineffective rewards spectrum, we will find Peter & Hull at the opposite end.
     As I see it, The Peter Principle is appallingly rampant in IT for one primary reason – the only way people can see you in most hierarchies is to climb to a greater height. If you want both the power to exercise influence and the satisfaction of being recognized for your contributions, what other option do you have?

     How do you reward people?
     It’s pretty simple, actually… Treat your people like people.
     A “Good job, Bob” goes a Hell of a long way when it comes with a genuine handshake from senior management and is witnessed across the organization. Contribution-based bonuses don’t hurt either.

     I’ll leave you with another recent tweet:
It’s impossible to dictate culture. The best you can expect is to dictate feigned compliance. Foster positive behavior & trust your people.

March 29, 2011, 06:33:03 am

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