The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same… Wait What?

Change management is the cornerstone of shepherding an organization through and to change. And since change is the only constant in life [side note: how many articles are there out there about change management where you think Heraclitus is not mentioned?], it seems pretty important that we understand the best ways to go about doing that.

When I think about the times that I’ve aided in an organization undergoing large-scale change, I think about the principles used to help bring that to fruition. Some lean on approaches like Kotter’s 8-step change model while others lean on approaches like ADKAR. For as long as I’ve been part of making change happen more smoothly (or teaching it to university students!), I don’t remember coming across this approach –

Emphasize What Will Stay the Same

Wait, what? We’re changing things here, why do we want to talk about what’s staying the same? We need to sell our people on this new vision and way of doing things. Won’t this torpedo our efforts?

Well, as it happens, no, it won’t. An excerpt [Emphasis Added]:

A root cause of resistance to change is that employees identify with and care for their organizations. People fear that after the change, the organization will no longer be the organization they value and identify with — and the higher the uncertainty surrounding the change, the more they anticipate such threats to the organizational identity they hold dear. Change leadership that emphasizes what is good about the envisioned change and bad about the current state of affairs typically fuels these fears because it signals that changes will be fundamental and far-reaching.

We announce that a change is coming and then people begin to fear the ramifications of losing what it is that they know. We then think that by emphasizing how things are going to be better (read: different) that this will then onboard people to this new vision, when instead, we’re giving them even more reason to dig in their heels against the change. Wow. It reminds me of those times in parenting when, as the parent, you want things not to go a certain way and by espousing that wish, you unintentionally expedite its occurrence.

What should we do, then? Well, how about:

In overcoming resistance to change and building support for change, leaders need to communicate an appealing vision of change in combination with a vision of continuity.

Let’s see if we can apply this knowledge:

  • We’re going to centralize all IT within the federal government. While this change will help us realize efficiencies upon efficiencies, our main goal is – and always will be – to continue to deliver exemplary service to Canadians.
  • We’re going to fundamentally improve the way that public servants apply for positions within the federal government. This change will allow us to better track the knowledge and experience of public servants and of the kinds of skills required of hiring managers across the government. While the interface for jobs.gc.ca will appear different, you’ll still be able to offer hiring managers the same information you did previously (more efficiently to boot!).
  • We’re going to Make America Kind Again increase the level of respect within the federal public service. You’ll still come to work and work on all the same cool things that you get to work today, but now we want to emphasize actions and behaviours that end harassment, curb negative behaviours, and multiply positive behaviours.

Can you think of other examples where you can apply this approach in your upcoming (ongoing) change management efforts?

This was cross-posted to GCconnex/GCcollab.

Published by Jeremiah Stanghini

Jeremiah's primary aim is to provide readers with a new perspective. In the same vein as the "Blind Men and the Elephant," it can be difficult to know when one is looking at the big picture or if one is simply looking at a 'tusk' or a 'leg.' He writes on a variety of topics: psychology, business, science, entertainment, politics, history, etc.

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