Managing change

All the conversations today are about managing change in organizations. Leaders talk about it as if it really is something one can ‘manage’. Everywhere I go, I see consulting practices with change leaders, and many of the things that come out on the other side are only slightly better than the snake oil sellers of yesteryear. So, what’s going on with managing change?

The first thing you need to realize is that you can not manage change, but that you can only preferably lead or manage people. There is no such thing as organizational change, there are only people who change. Organizations are large groups of people, yes, organized in a certain way to perform a certain task, but they are still people. This is where most organizations, especially large ones, stumble when it comes to change.

Imagine looking straight at an iceberg, an iceberg. If you could look straight at it, you would see a small point at the top, above the water and a large bottom, probably at least three to four times the size of what is floating above the water. Imagine this is your organization, it looks a bit like an org chart? What if we put up an organization chart on top of what you see of the iceberg?

If you did, you would see the CEO sticking out of the water at the top and his lieutenants, the senior team, as they say, sitting right there with him. According to them, the scourge of change management is below the water level according to the experts. Stay with me now and keep looking at the iceberg with the org card cover. Below the water level, everyone is in the organization.

The problem in today’s organizations is the gap between the CEO and the work that takes place down in the iceberg. The gap has never been bigger. While most CEOs are personally clear, articulate, and politically proficient, they do not know what is happening at the bottom of the iceberg. Not a single clue. And what’s worse is that they do not care. Herein lies the issue of managing change, the incredible gap today between worker and boss.

Of course, there is the old saying of managing things and leading people, and while it sounds soft, there is truth to it. If you brought in a CEO like at Home Depot and ruined the organization, you destroy the semblance of customer service and let you see the problem with more than $ 250 million. He kept saying he was managing change. He does not manage change, but changes people in his way of doing business or otherwise. He worked for him and left behind an even richer man than when he came. And the gap, the organizational iceberg as I call it, has never been bigger.

You see the iceberg used again, there’s a way the organization says it does things, and then there’s the way they really do things. The way they say they do things is above the line and the way they really do things is below the line. In well-managed organizations, the gap is small between how you say you do it and how you really do it, because the leaders, those above the waterline, communicate, that is, listen as well as speak, with those below the line. In most organizations, leaders draw up change plans and expect their ‘orders’ to be followed. This is not going to happen in today’s world.

To manage change effectively, leaders need to be in tune with their organizations and not look at their people as things they see in most organizations today. Oh, they have their policy manuals that say otherwise, but the manuals are high and dry, and are out of the water and down on the iceberg.

If you want to manage the change in your organization, you need to climb on top of your iceberg and wet your feet and understand the work at the customer level every day. You will need to ensure that your ‘senior team’ does the same. You need to make sure that you know what is going on in your organization and that you are not just getting the right treatment from your so called team.

To drive change, you may need to lead first.

Ed Kugler

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