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Guest Blog: The Inevitability of Change

I would like to personally thank Richard Derwent Cooke for being our guest blogger this week. Check out his website to learn more:

I was listening to someone talk the other day and they referred to “the inevitability of change”, and it was a phrase that really resonated for me. So often I hear people talking about Change as if it was an occasional stroke of bad luck, a bit like a traffic accident or a snow storm, something visited on us by the gods to test and try us. Nothing could be further from the truth! It is much more like weather, something we live with every day, just another dimension of our lives. And who should understand the changing nature of weather better than the British?

Every day we grow a little bit older and perhaps a little bit wiser (of course inside we always feel the same 16 year old we have always been) but as we grow older we notice the young people around us seem to change each time we see them, so why should change be such a threat when it is so much a part of our daily lives?

The truth is that we fear, fight and resist those things which are imposed from outside and this usually includes most business change programs. The very phrase “change program” is enough to send a cold shudder of dread through an organization. The usual methodology seems to involve someone at the top getting sold some new idea; perhaps a consultancy has some “new” methodology to peddle. This is the silver bullet, the secret ingredient that will kill all known germs, the one element that is required to transform your business! Usually it is snake oil and as likely to work as consulting the magic mirror in the executive washrooms! Intuitively the workforce realizes this and resists it as pointless.

Since the industrial revolution, the language of the workplace has become ever more the language of the production line. We want to eliminate waste and have reliable processes. Of course there is nothing wrong with either of these aims but in our efforts to turn people into machines we rob them of their spark. We need to create an environment that supports their genius and humanity and allows them to respond to things with all their gifts and intuitions. How often has a potential cock-up of monumental proportions been defused with a smile and a sincere sorry? An incident book and H&S manual would do nothing but compound and perpetuate it.

Of course I’m not suggesting we don’t need structures and processes, but when we treat people like components we are breeding resistance to the natural flow of things, including change. The farmer goes out into his field every day and sees something different and responds appropriately. He has no expectation that he will see the same conditions nor will his crops look the same; he knows things will have moved on. Leading business thinkers are warning that the old wisdom about peaks and troughs in business is now a thing of the past and that there no longer is a “recovery” phase. It just keeps on coming.

The thing is we don’t tend to fear things that we are familiar with, we learn to deal with them. I believe the key challenge for every business leader today is Change. Every decision is fundamentally about what things need changing and what things need preserving, and allocating resources between these things. Strategy is about mapping a safe route through the minefield, where to turn and where to keep straight on. So leaders need to build a culture that sees Change as inevitable, a force to be worked with as sailors use the wind, not to be feared, but harnessed!

I was listening to a Kyudo (the Japanese art of archery) master speaking the other day about how the desire to hit the target prevent you from doing so, one had to simply be in the flow and release the energy stored in the bow. This make seem overly zen and weird but I think a leader builds energy in his system, chooses his target and then his job is to simply release it and trust it to find its target.

Find a new language for discussing change, involve people in a dialogue about it rather than imposing it, set a direction rather than giving instructions, release energy rather than seeking to restrain it and remember “Change is inevitable. Except from a vending machine!” The best way to get people to join the “dance” is to be the first one onto the dance floor!

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