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Wednesday, 09 August 2017 00:00

There's Work Here for My Grandchildren

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No matter how many years I work in change management one thing never ceases to amaze me.  How the simplest and easiest things to avoid are not, and they are the things that trip us up.

I’m a member of an association that is an international group with a corporate/chapter structure.  This association has gone to standard processes in one area of the organization.  In addition, two of the core values of the corporate entity are flexibility and collaboration with their chapters.  Both are great core values.  Unfortunately the way they have manifested themselves in the endeavor to standardize a process is this:  The ‘standards’ aren’t written down, the head of the group just talks about them. (Often in the abstract, which is in and of itself a problem but I won’t go into that here.)  And when someone does something not to the standard instead of reiterating the standard dispassionately, they want to enter into a conversation to re-convince the individual of the need for standards.  And maybe the standards stay the same, but it is hard to tell because there isn’t anything written that anyone can refer to.  To some individuals working with the standards they seem to change, which is confusing.

You can see where this is going.

There are so many things wrong with their approach; it is hard to know where to begin.  So I’ll just say this:  Clarity, Clarity, Clarity.

As we know, when making a change it is important to be crystal clear about the change and what it is, and what it’s not.  People do better when they know the rules.  And if the rules or standards appear to be changing pretty regularly, it is hard to abide by them.  That’s why when you change procedures or processes it is important to put them in writing in a way that anyone can pick them up and understand them.  We know this, but it still isn’t being done. (Now you know why I say there is work here for my grandchildren.)

One of the frustrations of this corporate group is that they don’t know why they have to have the same conversation over and over again.  To this I say, to you it is the same conversation, but to others it may not be.  And if, in fact, you are having the same conversation over and over again, maybe it is because the other person isn’t clear about the rules.

When I mentioned to this corporate entity that the standards need to be clear, they told me it wasn’t ‘black and white’.  Problem number 2: If you are going to have standardization, the rules that govern it need to be black and white.  This is the rule, this is what the rule covers, this is what the rule doesn’t cover.  Otherwise it isn’t a standard.  This seemed to go against their core values of collaboration and flexibility but it really doesn’t.

Standards are by their very nature not flexible, but they are often surrounded by ways to be flexible.  You can have a standard that says ‘you must do a, b and c’ but then when it comes to ‘d’ there are options.  It is still a standard.  And these standards were created in collaboration with representatives from many of the chapters, so there is collaboration.  But once they are set, if you really want to standardize, you can’t continue to act as if there is flexibility and collaboration regarding the standards – or you will just confuse people, which is exactly what is happening.

I could go on, but I think you get the picture.  The lesson I want to share with you from what I describe is this:  when you are leading change it is important that you have clarity on several levels.

Clarity Level 1:  Make sure you, yourself are clear about the change – what is changing and what isn’t.  Make sure you understand the change from the perspective of the changee – the person doing the changing.  If you are the change agent, it is incumbent upon you to understand other perspectives.

Clarity Level 2:  Have repeatable explanations of the change that ensure it is clear to everyone.  By repeatable I mean written.  If there are standards or new rules, make sure the rules are written in a way that everyone can understand.  Do a test – ask people not involved in any way to read the standards and tell you what it means to them.

Clarity Level 3:  Invite and welcome questions about things that aren’t clear – no matter when they occur  - in a month, in two months, in two years. Knowing what others are clear about – and not - is a gift.  Inviting questions so you can further clarify is a great way to continue the collaboration.  Maybe the standard needs to change, maybe the standard needs to be clearer, maybe there is a need for another standard, maybe everything is completely clear.  Whichever it happens to be, clarity should always be your goal – but not clarity to you – clarity to others.

Keep in mind that a change may be simple and straightforward to you, but change and how it is viewed is in the eyes of the recipient of that change, not you. 

Want to talk more about change in your organization?  Call me any time – especially today because I’m snowed in!



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Beth Banks Cohn, PhD, founder and president of ADRA Change Architects, is dedicated to helping you and your organization reach your full business potential…
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