Ever wonder why business change doesn’t happen? I have a few theories.
One FTSE 100 Company I regularly work with came to Rising Vibe for help with this very thing. They’d begun the process and the change simply wasn’t happening. Top down declarations of, ‘You need to change!’ Were met with, ‘Well what changes are you actually looking for?’ The stalemate had already kicked in.
It turned out that nobody actually understood what ‘the change’ meant. Senior leaders were expecting their people to change but weren’t being explicit about what it was they wanted to be different. Furthermore, they weren’t supporting people to actually make those changes by doing anything new themselves. Nobody had a clue as to what the change actually looked like and as a result, had no idea where they were even starting from, let alone where they were going to.
This immediately brought to mind something that had happened with my daughter Martha and I decided to share the story with them.
Martha has recently and very admirably become an eco-warrior. She’s totally hooked into the climate emergency and is on a mission of change. On my way home from work one night, I got a phone call from my husband Ben to prepare for an onslaught, as Martha was on a climate change crusade. When I walked through the front door, all the lights were off and she was using the torch on her phone to read. She stated that from then on, nobody was allowed to eat beef, lamb or red meat of any kind. We wouldn’t be allowed to fill the kettle up anymore, only boiling the bare minimum of water to make our hot drinks. And finally, we were to stop using cleaning wipes immediately.
Martha was inspired to instigate these changes after connecting to a higher purpose. The difference between Martha and my client is that Martha was absolutely clear on her changes. Martha wants to stop global warming. There is a general understanding of what this is and we’re all aware of what it looks like.
In business there is very rarely a generic standard of understanding around business change. Companies talk of ‘business transformation’ or ‘culture change,’ but from senior leaders to individual staff members, nobody actually knows what this means or what it looks like. It’s much too vague.
If changes need to be made in business, they must be made with small, incremental steps. For Martha the steps are clear – lights off, only fill the kettle with as much water as needed, no red meat for dinner and no more cleaning wipes.
However, we must be mindful of who these changes impact the most. Martha is leading the change but the steps required don’t really impact her. She doesn’t make tea or coffee, cook dinner or clean up. I on the other hand, do.
Often in business, leaders instigate changes that don’t impact them and wonder why there is such a big problem. Martha said, ‘You must change!’ But change doesn’t happen overnight.
I can easily change not filling the kettle up. It’s an easy change. We don’t eat that much red meat at home anyway, so cutting back further is fine and turning off lights in uninhabited rooms is a no brainer. But giving up the cleaning wipes is a big deal for me. I’m the only one who cleans up properly (according to my standards!). As a busy working Mum, wipes are quick, easy and hygienic. I’ve used a cloth before and my hands get dry. When I’m not at home, the cloth gets dirty and smelly as people use it and don’t clean it and rinse it out properly. The cloth becomes a health hazard. When there are wipes available my kitchen is cleaner and we don’t dice with a dose of E.coli.
If we don’t support staff to make the changes we want them to make, they won’t happen. To Martha, no wipes is no big deal. To me, it is. So if Martha wants me to change, she has to support me by using the cloth, keeping it clean and leaving it bone dry.
Before the business change is communicated ask, ‘Is the overall change clear and will my staff connect to it?’ If the change is clear, are the steps to change explicit and precise? If they are, support your team and role model the change one small step at a time.
If you want me to follow you, I need to know what I’m doing, what needs to go first and in what order. Show me how to prioritise and support me to deliver it, or else I’ll be left holding the wet soggy dishcloth.
If you’re going through business change and need help, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.