Summer 2018 and I had the privilege of working for a client in San Francisco. Not confined to the city, I was able to explore the wild and massive interior to take in its natural wonders.
The granite peaks of the Sierra Nevada dominate California, forming the impressive backdrop of Yosemite, Kings Canyon and the Giant Sequoia national parks. While descending switchbacks of the precipitous western slopes, we came across the first town in the valley with the warning sign 'Bears Next 10 miles'!
The little town of Three Rivers (popn. 2,600) is a site of the 1849 gold rush, with turbulent times of swashbuckling pioneers fighting for survival and at the forefront of change and development.
The bear warning somehow reminded me of my work as a change manager! In this article I'll recall the interesting and fun realities of helping people and organisations through change and transformation. Bear pit, bear hug - or both?
Change is not just an academic or strategically designed process as some common methodologies would have us believe. Above all it requires practical life experience and an ability to help clients through resistance, learn from mistakes and encourage self belief, purpose and new ways of working.
The 'bear pit' is the struggle for a critically important new world, while the 'bear hug' is the creative and emotional support which is so needed in difficult change situations.
While Transformation Director at The Carbon Trust I interviewed potential change agents to help engage our mining company clients with low carbon technologies.
One of my interview questions to candidates was "What mistakes have you made in leading change and what did you learn from your mistakes?"
You may not be surprised to hear that the question was mostly met with some clearing of throats, much shuffling of feet but a resounding, stony silence. In reality the very bright young candidates knew a lot of theory but had no true practical experience - the experience which says in this challenging profession 'I have learned more from my mistakes than I have in graduate school, in textbooks or on the internet'.
Fortunately we eventually did find a group of really practical change agents who were able to visit quarry sites, help companies through difficult practical problems and encourage them to succeed.
The project in the end, was a landmark success in reducing carbon across the mining and aggregates industry.
Everyone recalls the fairy tale of The Pied Piper who rid Hamlin town of its rat infestation only to find that the burghers would't pay when the job was done. The Pied Piper in retaliation, then played his magic tunes to enchant all the children of Hamlin and dance them away - never to be seen again. All the children were gone!
Well this may not be such a fairy tale. Much childhood fiction has a smidgen of truth woven in and is often allegorical - it tells a story true to life.
As part of the 'bear pit' message, I sometimes encounter the Pied Piper Effect in change and transformation. Usually this happens three quarters into a project when the 'back of the change is broken' and we're plain sailing to a reinvented organisation.
The client may suddenly say 'why are you here as we don't seem to have a problem?!' They don't recall their dysfunctional company ready to collapse nine moths previously. Memories are sadly often very short.
In these days of enlightenment its also true that management practices can be archaic. I encountered the CEO of a JV partner who didn't believe in empowerment or engagement. "Yer just (Fword) well tell 'em Leon - now that's management and leadership!". Here a 'bear hug' was definitely indicated.
The perfect storm with a big bear sign at the door is brewing. 17 million voters in the UK are ostensibly behind Brexit; the other 16 million will resist. If there was a change vision for the new world, which there isn't, it would be more complex than climate change. The magnitude of the change as it stands cannot be imagined, least of all by the theorists who are attempting to design it.
Here sadly, I see more bear pit than bear hug. No method, mainly madness.
The Labovitch approach to change is encapsulated in The Eight Pillars http://labovitch.co.uk/the-8-pillars-of-change/. A practical and tested method which works with clients to deliver rational and creative change - much needed in a Brexit situation.
Its been a fun journey leading clients through change and transformation and is set to continue. Bear that in mind.
Leon Labovitch is CEO of The Labovitch Consultancy www.labovitch.co.uk and presenter of The Eight Pillars of Change.
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