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Wally Bock

Thanks for a great post and a great series on change, Steve. Thanks, too, for the kind words.

The time that it's most obvious that frontline managers are being ignored is the "rollout." Too often this consists of a PowerPoint presentation conducted by one of The Powers That Be (TPTB) and intended to "get you guys on board." But context is important.

For months people throughout the organization have known that some big change was in the works. The top brass and consultants have conducted surveys and whisked themselves away to offsites to plan the change. In the meantime the people who touch the customers have been asking their bosses what's going to happen, but their bosses don't know.

So while the executive suite is starting to prepare to begin to get ready for change, everyone else is speculating about what the change might really mean for them. Left to themselves they come up with some wild guesses.

Then comes the rollout presentation. It usually doesn't tell the managers much about how things will really be. Instead there's lots of consultant-speak about "increased competitiveness" and "global markets" or some such stuff that's far from most people's day-to-day reality. Often, the legitimate questions of managers don't get answered because questions are treated as a lack of loyalty.

I've seen supervisors who asked operational questions in these meetings get characterized as naysayers. TPTB's idea is that the middle managers and supervisors will salute and return to their charges to tell them about the great change that the big brains have planned and about the better world that awaits them all.

The problem is that while TPTB have had months to work through what they think is right, middle managers, supervisors and their people are getting it for the first time. The managers haven't been part of plan development, so they have no investment in it. They have only a cursory briefing so they can't answer many of the questions they'll be asked.

The result is that change is tough and top management (as they did in one recent, well-publicized survey) bemoans the lack of adaptability on the part of their workforce.

Steve Roesler


Your detailed description is true for just about every big-time change project that I've seen. And many, if not most, of the commercial "models" and their related programs tell the change sponsor to do just what you described. One would think, after 20 or so years of struggles with those approaches, organizations would do a time out and re-think the process.

peter vajda

Steve, you say in your post, "It's become more fashionable in many companies to explore the psychological and sociological underpinnings of leadership and change vs. the skills managers need to help achieve the results for which they are responsible" and, then, in your response to Wally, "One would think, after 20 or so years of struggles with those approaches, organizations would do a time out and re-think the process".

So, perhaps after these 20 or 30 years, in my perspective, it's high time that instead of corporate incessantly examining their "books", they might well spend the time having their heads and hearts examined...to explore the the disconnects and resistance to "doing things right" that promote change.

Perhaps too much time has been put into "thinking" and re-thinking--for me, pouring old wine into new wine skins, and creating nice, neat "technologies for change"...and maybe we could use some deeper "analysis" as to "why" change doesn't take place as the "thinkers" wish it would.

Einstein said, "The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them." Hmmm.

For me, the questions to ask are: "What's right about not looking deeper into the human psyche to explore what resitance is all about?" And, "What's right about consciously or subconsciously placing roadblocks and obstacles in the way of effective change?"

Obviously, something has to be "right" because so many choose to do so. So, what's underneath their choices?

Perhaps a sincere, honest and self-responsible look into the socio-emotional-psychological issues that either serve as obstacles to effective change, or lie beneath more surface-level obstacles to change, is an option (perhaps, even, a requirement).

When we look deeply into the "why it's not working" and discover the fears, emotional resistances, and ego defenses, and "out" them, then we'll have a clearer picture of what often really, really gets in the way of true change.

I, for one, applaud the efforts of industrial and organizational psychologists, workplace cultural anthropologists, or insight coaches, for example, who look deeply into the fabric of a corporate culture to discern what the truth is when it comes to resistance.

For me, this "soft" stuff is the hard stuff of true and real change. To me, this socio-emotional-psychological approach is not "esoteric" but actually quite pratical and appropriate.

But, then again, for many, it's "I prefer the devil I know rather than the devil I don't." Pogo had it right.

So, old wine, new skins...but, let's complain anyhow, blame someone, create new technologies, write new books, add some pages to the manuals, but never look within at the deeper issues.

Steve Roesler

Gee, Peter, I was wondering how long it would take for you to jump in on this one!

I may have shot myself in the foot with this one by keeping to the constraints of blog space and not expanding the thought.

Obviously, my posture is one of self-awareness and promoting the same. So the idea of introspection and thinking through things peacefully while allowing situations to unfold is a stable of my practice. What I was alluding to (and now you've given me an idea for another post) is the following:

1. Companies are dabbling with pop-psych "concepts du jour".

2. These are often "packages" that contain elements of truth that cause people to go "ooh" and "aah" but are not led by well-qualified people who are themselves highly aware of the real meaning of the content or its application in an organizational context.

3. Companies are more often than not now oriented toward "events" vs. long-term, deliberate integration of concepts pertaining to growth. Frequently, good things are begun but then end up with a tick next to the title and it's "on to the next big thing."

4. For-profit organizations survive and thrive in proportion to their profitability. The numbers are, in fact, everything (whether we like it or not). That said, what you and I would say is, "Your numbers just might be exponentially better if you began looking at the deeper issues in life that impact one's total ability to lead, follow, and "perform".

Those leaders who I see being highly effective would be, by anyone's standards, highly self-aware as well. When they are about to make changes they are keenly in tune with the human condition, their own strengths and weaknesses, and don't have much trouble knowing when to ask for help. What I've discovered that they don't have is the budget or time to create a "growth experience" prior to an initiative. Instead, they lead people very deliberately down a well-defined path that allows for pausing at certain intervals and asking, "What are we learning from this?" The word "learning" extends into the personal realm as well as systems and processes.

I just had a phone conversation earlier today with a VP who has worked under a new CEO for the past 6 months. His comment: "I've never worked so hard and learned so much about business and life as I have since _____took over. Everything he does causes me to stop and reflect."

Your comment has also caused me to think back on successful and unsuccessful engagements over the years. In 1992 I decided to ask prospective clients this question: How willing are you to examine your own ways of operating and become the first person to "change"? The answer to that question now determines whether or not I will take the engagement. Those initiators of change who think it has to only happen "out there" simply aren't worth working with. They are the ones who blame, look to technology as the answer, and add pages to the manuals.

As a result of the question, though, I have been blessed--and I don't use that word lightly--to work with executives who added to my growth every bit as much as I may have added to theirs. And they don't have any difficulty linking the human spirit with the bottom line. Their task--and it's a tough one--is to mesh those two in ways that are so integrated that they are invisible to the casual observer or the hard-nosed Board member.

Gosh. Maybe I should just edit our exchange a bit and use it as a post.

Any thoughts, friend?

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