If you can be sure of one thing in business (and life), it’s change. I’ve tried telling this to my two-year-old daughter, but she’s having none of it. She seeks the reassurance of the familiar, the pleasures of repetition. And in her own way, she will eventually accept change. But not without a fight.
For example, this weekend, I made her porridge as usual – in a “big girl’s bowl”, with honey, and then milk poured over the top. I then noticed that I hadn’t turned the dishwasher on the previous night, and her pink spoon was still dirty. I offered her a white spoon, making sure to call it a “big girl’s spoon”, but she was having none of it.
“I WANT THE PINK SPOON!” she screamed, tears rolling down her eyes.
“But this is a big girl’s spoon, for big girls…” I proffered, vainly.
“PINK SPOON! Not the big girl’s spoon. The pink spoon!”
Now, then. I realise that SuperNanny would have folded her arms at this point and given me that stern look that says “you’re weak, you’ve given in”, but I did what any tired parent would have done, and washed the pink spoon. The path of least resistance. Judge me, if you will, I don’t care.
She ate the porridge, with an immediate smile on her face, and reminded me how much she liked porridge, her toy dog, and me. And in exchange, I got to eat my own porridge in what I consider to be relative peace.
Of course, this is no way to behave in a business context, and I mean that from my own point of view. Conceding to reactions against change is not the way forward – and we will always have reaction to change. It’s natural – as natural as my daughter’s reaction to not having her pink spoon in the morning.
Change is what keeps our businesses moving. It’s what moves us on from the pink spoon to the “big girl’s spoon” – and ultimately, towards knives and forks, if we were to extend the metaphor. Without change, we’d stagnate while our customers move on without us. We’d “do a HMV”, stubbornly refusing to change our game despite a tidal wave of outside influences knocking on our door.
Garrett Gitchell, at hr.com, says that change has five layers:
He underlines that these are not hierarchical, one-after-the-other layers that you carry out in sequence. They are, essentially, five areas of change management, and HR needs to be involved in all of them in order to help drive change through the business.
If I were to put this back into my daughter’s context, I want her to “own” the spoon. We achieved this with the pink spoon, but we now need to move on to bigger spoons. This is the translation of an idea to a process – I want her to eat more quickly, therefore a bigger spoon is required. I want her to own that process, and I hoped that by calling a bigger spoon a “big girl’s spoon” would encourage that. Not yet.
For this change to take place, I may need to help my daughter rearrange her priorities. For her, the priority is eating with the pink spoon, but if I could distract her from the spoon and introduce more serious concerns, such as time (wish me luck), then the change may be seen as necessary.
However, I need a process. I can’t introduce this change so suddenly, as I have discovered. I need to introduce it slowly, and I may need to bargain. For example, I may want to introduce more honey to the porridge as an exchange for the bigger spoon. Yes, I may eventually reduce that honey back to its original few drops, but over time, she won’t notice.
Equally, we go back to that idea of context. I need to understand her context, and she needs to understand mine (again, wish me luck). The context is that she’s a growing girl, and growing girls need bigger spoons, and they also need to eat more quickly otherwise Daddy will be late for work.
If we put these processes into action in the workplace, we are essentially experiencing what Lisa Butler at HR services provider Right Hand HR labels ‘transition management’ – the handling of the movement from one state to the other. And it’s this transition management that requires delicate handling.
As business owners and stakeholders in the change management process, we have to view the human side of change management as something to manage. The low morale, the lack of trust, the trauma of downsizing and the overall resistance to change whether it involves redundancies or not, can result in reduced productivity, absence, discipline and potentially resignations. This transitional period, while managed strategically, requires the tactical tact of HR professionals so that talented employees not only don’t resign, but feel part of the change.
Equally, it’s the responsibility of HR to own the crystal ball and plan for alternative outcomes. Contingency planning within transition management is the safety net that only HR professionals can provide. What happens when unforeseen resignations hit your desk? What about when the project meets with severe resistance or conflict?
If anyone still requires convincing of the value of strategic, on-site HR within an organisation, change management seals the deal. Whether we’re moving from one organisational structure to another, or from a pink spoon to a “big girl’s spoon”, we need to expect resistance, to know how to transition the change, and manage the human emotions that come with it
And if those human emotions involve screaming “I WANT THE PINK SPOON”, then stick to your plan. It won’t happen overnight, and it won’t be easy, but you’ll get there.