Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Change Challenge

Most people find change difficult. It tends to make people feel anxious, criticised and insecure. There are many ways to protect oneself individually from uncomfortable feelings, but the strongest protections - and the hardest to challenge - are often culturally sanctioned or embedded in social systems and structures of organisations.

The first entry, on each paragraph of the list below, is from a 1980's Local Government Training Board about the management of change. The list captures the way people at the time would use the rigid bureaucracy and formal roles of local government to convince themselves and others that change was impossible. 

The same process – with different villains – can be observed amongst modern corporations. This time it’s the workings of the market, the IT department or the mercurial customer that are invoked. Such statements are usually the tip of an iceberg, the overt form of a much more deep-seated resistance to what is being asked. The second listing of each paragraph represents the updating of the 1980's list, to now represent the standard objections to action on climate change by business: 

1. Our work is different 
1. It’s not competitive

2. Our work is no different to anyone else’s 
2. It won’t be profitable

3. It won’t work for a large Department 
3. It will inhibit innovation

4. It won’t work for a small Department 
4. There isn’t a market

5. We’ve been doing it that way for 25/15/10/5 years 
5. The public aren’t interested

6. We’ve never done it before 
6. The board/workforce/customers won’t like it

7. We tried it once before 
7. My line manager will say no

8. Another Department tried it once before 
8. The IT department won’t like it

9. No one’s ever tried it before 
9. Health and Safety will object

10. Nothing new about. We’ve been doing it all the time 
10. We can’t afford it

11. It’s only a passing fashion 
11. We can’t add unnecessary costs

12. It’s too difficult/complex 
12. We haven’t got time for it

13. It all sounds too easy/simple 
13. It will reduce efficiency

14. Why change it when it’s ticking over nicely, thank you very much 
14. Staff already have too much to do

15. We know more about this than anyone 
15. We do all that anyway 

16. It’s so completely new to us 
16. We already say we’re doing it

17. I’ve heard it all before 
17. We tried that in the 80's/90's/last year

18. This is the only way to do it 
18. It’s so last century

19. It can’t be done 
19. It isn’t sexy

20. You could spend all your time thinking up newfangled ideas 
20. It’s not our image

21. The boss/committee won’t like/accept it 
21. It’s a passing fashion

22. The staff won’t like/accept it 
22. That’s the job of the ‘Green Champions’

23. The clients won’t like it 
23. CSR takes care of that

24. Treasurers/Clerks/Personnel won’t like it 
24. That’s the job of Government.

25. The committee won’t like it 
25. It’s not compulsory

26. It’s not in my interests to change it 
26. We’ll wait till we’re forced to

27. The rules won’t allow it, it’s against standing orders 
27. It will lead to unnecessary regulation

28. I don’t believe in it (because I should feel wretched if I did) 
28. It will drive jobs overseas

29. I believe in it in principle, but... 
29. It’s too hard for our sector

30. We got into a mess last time we tried to change it 
30. It’s not relevant to our sector

31. It’s policy 
31. It’s not viable for a small company

32. It’s a statutory requirement 
32. It’s not viable for a big company

33. This is not the time/the place 
33. We’re too small to make a difference

34. We haven’t got the staff for this at present 
34. We’ll do it when everyone else is

35. We haven’t got the money for this at present 
35. We’ll have to exempt the board/sales department/travel budget/ procurement /conferences

Today, business culture is quite different, of course, but the process is the same. Where 1980's local government employees fell back on the idea of an inevitable and unchanging bureaucracy; modern private sector employees invoke the structures of the market, the attitudes of the customer or the arcane practices of the IT department to explain why - although they might like to - they will not be taking action.

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