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Episode 3: Disrupting Change - Lucy Trueman

It is probably fair to say that most people who are impacted by organisational change often feel it is something that can only happen over a long time. In fact, practitioners would advocate that taking the necessary time to engage, support and motivate staff is a critical success factor in realising the benefits of change.

But we have seen cases over the past year where change has taken place at rapid speed and scale largely delivering the expected outcomes without all the ideal change management “process” that we would expect need to be in place to be successful.

At best a paradox possibly at worst a harsh reality for us to live up to?

Our guest this week, Lucy Trueman, Managing Director of Trueman Change has been on a mission to find out from her network what they have learned about what it really takes to drive change.

Lucy’s experience in working with public sector organisations, prior to covid, was an all too familiar risk averse, slow paced and bureaucratic environment. Environmental treacle for organisations wanting to make change happen at pace and scale. But overnight she saw swathes of local council organisation breakdown traditional silos, flatten standard hierarchies and tear down red tape to enable change to be delivered at a pace and scale that change managers could only dream of seeing.

Lucy says with some hope “it’s an interesting time to be in Change Management, it feels like in many ways the rule books have been thrown into the air and landed back down and now we need to sift through them”.

Lucy is certainly on to something but what exactly has this period taught us about Change Management?

1. Never Waste a Crisis

How often do we hear that to motivate and encourage everyone to make change happen - present them a burning platform. An ultimatum which compels them to act. Despite this advice there is a very uncomfortable truth that in most change initiatives only a minority of staff will feel the desired heat whilst the rest are left temporarily aroused before they return to their day jobs and the initiative lurches into action.

Maybe equally challenging is that some change initiatives do not intend to offer a radically new way of doing things but perhaps just a better way of what is already done.

Figuring out how to turn a “sense of urgency” where most people feel very little from it into a actual crisis where people can physically feel the impacts if action isn't taken is a critical challenge. For such situations it is important to listen to what is being said and, actually also what isnt, and tap into this dialogue to help you position the change. Also perhaps a lever that needs to be ustilised more is removing the current structures, systems or process that are being replaced and accepting the risk with appropriate mitigation to support people. What Lucy’s experience from the recent year has told her is that when people are focused on a goal powered by the reality of the urgency, employees can become focused and energised to make change happen themselves.

2. Purpose and Alignment

In most cases, when a change is taking place in an organisation, numerous other changes are also taking place. At the very least, people are predominantly focussed on doing the necessary work to meet the business as usual activities to keep them on track.

Everyone is tightly focussed on their part of the work with very little time to give a cursory glance to what might be going on elsewhere. They perhaps have lost sight of the bigger picture, burdened by the sheer volume of work they have to do just to get through the day.

But during a crisis, there is a brief moment where everyone stops whatever they are doing and takes in the enormity of the task at hand and asks themselves “What is my role in this”. It is this aspect of change that appears to be underutilised in organisations.

Lucy has seen through the local council response to the pandemic was a reawakening of every employees purpose in the context of their role - to serve the local community. When the urgency is real for people, we can tap into their intrinsic motivations to reignite their purpose and bring them together to solve almost any seemingly impossible problem.

3. No risk no rewards

In day to day operations, the entire focus is to reduce variability in the output. To strive for consistent and persistent delivery. But for an organisation, public or private, to remain valuable and sustainable, it must adapt to prevailing “market” demands.

Balancing these two is a significant challenge because you cannot take risks and simultaneously expect all the outputs to remain consistent.

Lucy knows this challenge well from her work with public sector organisations, where one of the biggest challenges to making progress is the governance and red tape that people need to go through to make even the smallest of changes come to life.

But what Lucy witnessed during covid was a melting away of that red tape. No longer were there review groups, steering committees, manager sign-offs and endless process to follow. Instead people were trusted to do the right thing and given the power to actually go and do it.

That empowerment and support accelerates the speed at which change can take place. Risk taking isn’t about being reckless, it is about trading off the impact of bigger risks which have far reaching consequences and very undesirable consequences.

So where does that leave us? Has the pandemic shown that Change Management isn’t needed or has it simply demonstrated Change Management is constantly constrained by the structural baggage organisations accumulate as they scale? I think as is common with such binary propositions the answer is “it depends”!

In every change that Change Managers are involved in, the intent is to ensure that those impacted by change have the right information, at the right time with the appropriate level of support to ease each person as safely through the change as possible and to make it sustainable. Here we are saying that this is exactly the environment that is created, albeit forced by the urgency of the situation, in crisis and how change is able to be accelerated but perhaps at the cost of how sustainable it is.

I think what we have learned is that change can happen at whatever speed we would desire but in order to maintain a Change Management goal of persistence of the change - it would be wise to focus your team, perhaps even your entire organisation, on the task at hand instead of simply making it one more thing for everyone to think about.

In truth then, Change Management where it is applied in organisations is significantly constrained by the day to day forces of how organisations operate and the multitude of change initiatives that might be impacting groups as we should be pressing for focus, by removing organisational barriers, to speed the delivery of change whilst making it sustainable. Easier said than done but clearly a very different approach that enough of us take forward perhaps becomes the new way of work for Change Managers.

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