Three reframes for human-centred change
We live in a time characterised by uncertainty and volatility, with disruption becoming less of an event and more of a pervasive condition. But each shock that an organisation experiences is also a learning opportunity for its leaders. It’s a chance to look closely at how it does its work and imagine a better way. With the right mindset, discomfort is exciting and disruption is a rich opportunity for change.
Changing the way we do change
Change is hard, and more often than not it fails. The reason is that at the heart of all organisational change is the need to change how people behave; but we have no idea how to do that, so we focus our attention on more tangible things like structures and processes in the hope that that will fix the problem. It does not.
At this critical time in human history, we have an urgent and exciting opportunity to change the way that we do change. The crux of this is understanding human behaviour change, not as a problem to be ducked, but as an opportunity to put meaning and purpose back at the heart of our organisations.
1. People are not an asset to your organisation, they are the organisation. All organisations are simply groups of people working in service to other groups of people. Relationships matter. The sooner we see organisations for what they really are, the sooner we can develop a change practice that works.
2. People don’t resist change; they resist being changed. One of the reasons why change initiatives often focus on structures or processes is because of the myth that people resist change. But the truth is that people only resist change when it is something that is happening to them, and they have no control over it. Research shows that we often react badly to perceived threats to our freedom, and that neither stick- nor carrot-based incentives help with this. We need another approach.
3. People own what they create. Data and workflow analysis is one way to understand a problem, but nothing gets closer to the heart of the issue than actually consulting the people doing that work. If the people who will be affected by the change are consulted, properly listened to, and involved in the change from the very start, the chances of success are always much greater.
Human-centred change for organisational success
If we really want to get excited about the future of all our organisations, we need to stop treating people as if they are the roles that they play, or the salaries that they earn, or the number of direct reports they have. They are not. They are fully functional human beings with hearts and heads.
They are not part of the organisation; they are the organisation.
A human-centred approach to change puts the people whose work will be changed in charge of the design of that change. If that makes senior leaders uncomfortable then that’s a good sign that we are moving in the right direction – an exciting one.