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Managing Organisational Change – From a PhD Holder in OD

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New Webinar Series In 2021

Smart Scaling with Customer Experience (CX) Fluency

We have kickstarted an entirely new webinar series on change management called “Smart Scaling with Customer Experience (CX) Fluency” in 2021. This series differs from our usual webinars of interviewing User Experience (UX) professionals on their experience of working in the UX field – which we are still continuing in the webinar series called “Working In UX Design”. However, “Smart Scaling with CX Fluency” features guest speakers who are consultants or leading managers as we discuss their experiences in leading change and innovation by becoming more customer-centric.

The Inspiration: 2020 Insights

The inspiration for this series was one of the important insights that we discovered last year, as we were working with our enterprise clients. We realised that everybody is just trying to figure out how to carry out change, especially during COVID. People were just scrambling and finding the right frameworks while trying to find their feet. And nobody actually knows what exactly methodologies are. So I decided to reach out to the experts that I know in my community, and interview them to learn their best practices and share it with everyone.

Our First Guest: Douglas OLoughlin

Douglas is one of such experts. He is a true practitioner who has been doing organization development work for almost as old as I am. Having been in the industry for over 30 years, practicing Organization Development (OD) since 1988, Douglas deeply honours the field itself and respects the human and system side of things. He is also a PhD holder in OD and Development Psychology, where his PhD research was about frameworks and tools of adult development psychology, as well as how it can impact personal and organization development. Currently working at the Civil Service College, for more than a decade now, and regularly working with the C suite and the management team, we’re honoured to have him as our first guest.

“Regarding change, people are often not afraid of the change going from point A to point B, they’re worried about the how. It’s the transition that’s more painful.”

In the pilot episode of the Smart Scaling with CX Fluency Webinar Series (which is also being streamed as our podcast series which was just launched 2 days ago), we brought out some of the stories that Douglas has encountered, when he was instituting change management back in the 90s. We also touched on some of the more recent stories from his time at the Singapore Civil Service College where he helped with the change management process in our local Civil Service. This article will be formatted in the Q&A style the interview was conducted, as it highlights some of the amazing stories he shared during my interview with him.

Interview with Douglas

Q1: What is change management in your definition?

A: Getting better at learning how to go to point A to point B.

Over the years, I believe change management is a competency. We tend to think of change management as going from point A to point B, but as an individual, organisation or a team, we can get better at learning how to go to point A to point B. So that the next time, we get better at it. We can all think of ourselves and organisations having the ability to do that. So I would say it’s both event-driven, an individual change, as well as a competency to be good at understanding this.

Q2: Would you say OD is quite internal-facing?

A: Yes, but it impacts the external surroundings as well.

OD is focused on the health of the organisation, in order to serve the greater outer good. As a simple definition we would say it is to help the organisation so you have more impact externally and more health internally. I think one of the things that we all realise is that if the change doesn’t get implemented, or it’s very painful, we want to make it a little bit easier for people to accept a change whether it’s internal or external.

Q3: Are there any overlaps between the OD and UX?

A: Yes, in the sense that we have the same end goal.

We do work quite closely with the design thinking folks. We try not to call ourselves design thinking OD and all these different terms. So for example, when the public service often comes up to do all the UX stuff and when there’s UX research done which results in certain recommendations, it has been found out early on that the organisations were not implementing a lot of the solutions. It made sense for citizens and for the ministries to not carry them out, in their opinion. So then the question became, how do we increase the acceptance? Most of the time the solution is a reasonably good solution.

Q4: How do we increase the acceptance level, so that people are more likely to implement the ideas that we have?

A: Get them involved upfront or work harder to produce convincing proof.

I guess there’s two or three different ways to do that.

1. One way is to get people involved upfront

Get them involved on what it is going to take to make this recommended change happen. We’ve done lots of projects with Temasek Poly and MCI, where instead of coming up with a plan and then saying, ‘Let’s roll it out’, they suggested ‘Why don’t we get a few 100 people involved in designing the change?’ So now everyone owns it, right? You don’t have to sell the change. I don’t know if everyone here can relate to that. So that’s one level, get people involved when it makes sense.

This first way wouldn’t work when we know it’s going to be exceptionally difficult for them to accept the recommended change. How then do we involve people more in working their way through that change? If we have a really good solution, and we know that if we give it to the organisation or users and they’re going to implement it, then we just do it, right? It’s quite simple. And if we can ever have those situations, it’s great, right? But let’s say we don’t have those two things. So one choice we have is, like I mentioned, get people involved in creating the strategy and solutions.

2. The second way is to work hard to produce results to convince them

In such situations where we know it’s going to be hard, we definitely need to work harder at getting theri acceptance. A lot of the work I do, we don’t have tangible evaluations. We don’t know 100% for sure that there were tangible results. But every once in a while, there are such results, and here’s two quick ones.

Storytime #1: Keppel Tatlee Bank

The first story is from many years ago. When Keppel Bank and Tatlee Bank merged into KTB, they realised that the banks had been the same for a long time. The bank had been around for 25 years, family owned with no change. So they knew that it was going to take a lot of effort to get into this integration, because they’ve never done it before. They hadn’t done a lot of change. It wasn’t a competency they have. So Accenture did the systems work.

But then a couple of us did the change and transition work. And we worked very hard, because they knew that they needed to do that in order to have a successful integration of the two banks. To make a long story short, the year after they integrated, the one bank combined made more money and had higher engagement scores than the year before when they were two separate banks.

So it’s always nice to see at least a little bit of evidence that what we did and the change really did help people. Even when they weren’t used to change, they managed to do that. So that was quite nice. We did lots of workshops, booklet, all kinds of things. This was in the 90s during the Asian financial crisis. And that’s kind of why they merged because there was a thing about consolidating the banks. They got swallowed up within a couple years by another bank, I think OCBC.

One more recent one, but a similar story, is about the Ministry of Social and Family Development coming up with this idea to identify the most financially vulnerable families in Singapore a couple of years ago. And they come up with this really great plan to do that. So instead of people having to navigate the government, each family who was identified would have a social worker attached to them. So for example, the social worker I am attached to is called Cheryl, and I’m a family that’s struggling, I don’t have to call all these ministries. I simply call Cheryl and say, ‘Cheryl, can you help me?’

It was a great plan, and we had nine agencies involved, but we also know that nine agencies all coming together, and coming on to the same plan was quite difficult. Because they all have their own schemes to help the poor, more vulnerable families. So, we worked really hard. It took us six to nine months and we worked at all different levels – the very top level, the director level, the people and the frontline level – we had them come up with different processes. MSF showed them videos, so everyone cried to make them relate more to the families that were struggling and help them reach out.

I mention this particular program, because they researched the few 100 families that were identified, and measured how effective the program was for the families. And it was quite a stellar success. And if I could add one more change management angle to that which I tell this story a lot and it’s really helpful. When we started this six or nine months change management process to get all nine agencies involved, one of the agencies that shall remain unnamed was extremely resistant. Every time they came to one of these things, they showed their reluctance to come.

They were like, ‘Why are we doing this? Just because your minister announced it, why do we have to join? We have our own ways to help people.’ So, they were quite resistant. But because of all the work that was done by the team at MSF, and my colleague, Christian, I supported them and did lots of workshops and carried out these large group interventions. And that one agency that was so resistant who really didn’t want to be part of it, once they got it, they became the biggest champion of the project. They actually got an award after the three years for being the most supportive agency.

This is a really good lesson for change management because some of the people, teams, ministries or organisations who are most resistant upfront, once they get it and they see that this is a good thing, they become a great champion. So I think it’s a good lesson to not write off people just because they’re initially struggling a little bit to get on board.

Q5: Other than having empathy, which is identified as a skill in UX as well, what other skills were key to the success in your stories?

A: Understanding the systemic things.

That’s a very good connection. Let’s keep finding that intersectionality. I think empathy is one thing, and I think understanding the systemic things that get in the way of making these things happen, is another. So let’s take the one I just mentioned with the Ministry of Social and Family Development for example. What it really came down to after lots and lots of talking to people, was the challenge that they faced being the form that they had to fill in and submit into MSF. So there’s the empathy to understand where people are coming from.

And then there’s the understanding of where the blockages are, because there could be an emotional blockage. But there’s also very practical blockages which they may not be conscious of off the top of their head. There’s a concern about how we are going to do this, who’s going to pay for it, and so on. So I think it helps when we understand the landscape and ecosystem. Is that an overlap in UX as well?

Q6: How do I get started in leading change in my organisation?

A: Talk to your colleagues, settle on an idea, get a senior’s advice, and attempt executing the idea.

Well, that’s a simple question and a big question, wouldn’t you say? So I would say it depends what level you are at in the organisation, and what level of urgency there is in the system to change. So I would say those are two factors to start with, right? If you’re a very senior person, and your organisation is feeling a lot of pain, because of the competition or something else, your chances of being successful in promoting a change is quite good. If you’re lower level and everyone in your organisation is feeling quite happy and complacent, feeling like they’re doing okay, then you need to be a black belt right in order to promote the change.

So, there are a few dimensions that make a difference. But I would start with what is the change that you think that we each think would be helpful? And I wouldn’t go this on my own right. I would say talk to other people like your colleagues and find out if they think this is a good idea.

Storytime #3: Family Service Centre (FSC)

I actually got a call about two weeks ago from somebody who works in one of the Family Service Centres (FSCs). And he’s young, smart with all sorts of ideas for change. So, he feels all by himself while he’s trying to do all these changes. He’s banging his head against the wall and having a really hard time. So, I told him, ‘find the two or three things that you think are most important.’

And I asked him if he has anybody in his organization – which is pretty small with about 40 people – who is young like him and would like to do things differently. I asked him to talk to them, and find one idea that they all agreed on that would be something really useful and helpful. Then maybe talk to somebody more senior that he thinks would be a listening ear to give you guidance. That way, he can start in some of the new schemes that he had in mind. If you don’t have a change in mind, and you’re saying you want to make changes in the organization, I think doing this is a good place to start.

Storytime #4: AT&T

Because if we all work in an organization, we know things are not perfect, right? So we find things that are close to our heart. I remember when I first started working AT&T, many years ago, and when I first got into OD, I thought the biggest issue was the way we promote people. So back in the day as long as you kissed up to your boss, you could get promoted, even if you kicked down everyone else. So I used to go to the president to tell him that we need to have a better way of promoting people and that we need to make sure there’s a board, do a 360 and ensure it’s not just one person promoting people. So that’s what I did.

That was probably the first big change that I tried to do. I did manage to get to the ear of the President, but he told me “Well, you know, Doug, you have to understand things take time.” And it did take a few years. But finally, we did implement a better solution for that on how leaders get promoted. So I would say all of us here have issues if we work inside, as a consultant, or externally, we see opportunities. I say this is not stuff we do on our own, we have to reach out to other people and form a little coalition to get things done.

Q7: How do we spot symptoms that an organisation’s ready for change or perhaps not ready?

A: I like to do it when the organisation themselves say they’re ready for change. But I do have a few exercises to prompt them.

I do lots of mergers and change. So, I have a few different lenses. I like to do it where the organization says they need to change. I’m actually working on a live project right now with an organization that is about to go through a change. They’re doing okay, their platform is not even warm. So if an organization is doing okay, and nobody feels a sense of urgency, or the feeling of a burning platform, then we need to work harder to get people to see for themselves how it would be good to change. That, to me, is the key, I don’t think it helps to tell people you need to change. Let them come to their own conclusion.

Prompting Tool #1: The S Curve

So one of the tools has been called the S Curve by Charles Handy. For example you have a new job, relationship, product or service, and you’re struggling at beginning, so you’re going up the curve. And eventually, if you don’t re-inject something new, then you go down. So you know, if you don’t upgrade your services or product organization then you go into decline. So the idea is to start a new S Curve, before you go into decline.

The problem is, if you try to go on a new S Curve, and you haven’t gotten into decline, then everybody in the organization is like, why are we changing? We’re doing fine. Why are we trying to break something that’s not broken? So I’m working with this organization and I know that’s what people are thinking. So then I’m going to introduce this model to them. And they’re going to talk about it. And then they’re gonna feel like this is indeed the right time for them to go onto something new. So if it’s important to change, but there’s no urgency to, then it helps to get that organization to see this S curve.

This is a great activity, if you do work internally or externally with the organization. What I do is I put ropes in the S Curve shape on the ground and explain what this S Curve model is about. Then, I ask people to raise your hand and ask, “How many of you ever changed your job, because you felt like you were getting a bit stale, and you wanted to try something new? Or you tried a new hobby or a new thing? Because you felt like it was time to start something new.”

Almost every hand in the room goes up. I continue “So you understand S curves, you understand the principle that it’s good to do a new S curve, right?” So when they when the people in the organization stand on the rope, many people will say, ‘yeah, we’re doing okay but sure, let’s try something new.’ And then it becomes so much easier to do to change.

Prompting Tool #2: 2 Powerful Questions

Another thing that I do sometimes to get the organization to wake up to change is ask:

1) On a 1 to 10 scale, how fast is our environment changing?

Then people answer somewhere between 3 to 8.

2) On a 1 to 10 scale, how fast are you changing internally to meet the external environment?

Then, they usually go much lower. And all of a sudden, the 50 leaders of an organization are looking at each other, feeling like they’re not doing very good and that they had better change.

So I just find it’s good to have lots of these little tools to help people. Because usually the very top person is the one pushing for change. And the rest of the people who are very happy are the ones who’ve come up through the organisation. They’ve been around a while and they’re doing a good job. They’re the ones who feel unmotivated hearing that yet another boss wants to have another change. They’ll feel like they will either go along or maybe wait it out till the CEO transfers or gets posted out.

And sometimes change gets imposed from the outside, like a merger. But in general, it’s always quite nice if people own it a bit more. And if they don’t own it, and it is imposed, it’s important to get them involved in the how and understanding that transition.

Q8: Without self awareness there is no possibility to change. Do you agree?

A: Well, yes. On top of self-awareness, reasonable targets and discipline are important factors too.

  • ‘Losing weight’ example

Well, I think we can all relate to this. If we’ve ever attempted a change, for example like trying to exercise more or eat healthier, then it comes down to the self awareness to know whether the targets we’re setting for ourselves are reasonable and whether we have the discipline to do it.

So if we’ve had 10 commitments in the past that we’re going to exercise three times a week for 20 minutes and we tried 10 times before and we didn’t do it, then we need to work a little bit harder to create this infrastructure, and support. Perhaps start off by saying to yourself that you’re not going to do this for the rest of your life but maybe just for the next two weeks and then see how it goes.

  • Psychology of change

If I could add two more points about change, I think it also helps understand the psychology of change. So I mentioned one: research backs that the people who were initially most resistant often become the champions, once they get it and believe that it’s the right thing to do. The other two that I think are good to keep in mind is what Barry Johnson, the guru of polarity thinking, said. He says that by repeating the notion of how we need to change again and again it actually slows down the change or the transformation, because we just keep hammering away on this message of the need to change. We see this a lot in public service and even in private as well.

  • Importance of including what is going to stay the same

And we don’t often include what’s not gonna change. What is going to stay the same – our values, principles, commitment to our customers or our citizens? And we’ve done this before, we can do it again, because it’ll help us be better, whatever. So he says that if we just keep pushing the message of how we need to change, it’s actually counterproductive. He also wrote very extensively about that. And maybe one of the better things I did in my 10 years in the public service was to remind leaders that we need to say what is staying the same, that’s one. So when people get change fatigue, it’s very real.

So how do we make sure we know that things are going to stay the same, and we’re going to do this together? It’s not like corporate leaders saying, ‘You better change, or else! You better get on the bus, or else I’m going to find you and I’m going to kick you off the bus myself!” I’ve actually heard CEOs of big fortune 50 companies say that to their staff. And it’s terrible.

  • Importance of the narrative

So what’s important is the narrative. So the good ones will say, “We’re going through a major transformation and it’s going to be hard. I hope you come on board. But if your life circumstances don’t allow for this, I totally understand and we will help you find another job and get you whatever support that you need. Because it is going to be a lot more time and commitment and you’re going to have to learn a lot of new things.” So there’s lots of things to understand about narratives.

Q9: What’s the difference between change and transition?

A: Change is going from point A to point B, transition is how you’re going to get from A to B.

The difference between a change and a transition… William Bridges has written the books on this and I think many of you would have seen his stuff. Regarding change, people are often not afraid of the change going from point A to point B, they’re worried about the how.

  • ‘Moving house’ example

For example, you’re moving to a bigger or more convenient place. 6 months later, you’re going to be more comfortable in your new place. However, there is the trouble of moving boxes, signing documents, settling electricity, water and updating your new address. If you’re moving to a place that hasn’t been sold yet, you have to rent another place for two months while you’re waiting.

Hence, it’s the transition that’s more painful. And it’s the same thing – a lot of organisations change be it their people learning where once they learn a new system, they’re fine. But as for the learning part, how do we support people through learning new ways of doing things. It’s a lot of understanding the psychology of change for people and really walking them across. All through that transition of getting over the bridge to reach their new way of being.

Q10: Do you have any tips, general principles or approaches for good CEOs to bring these ground level people along safely and successfully in this journey of change?

A: Have empathy when announcing the news of change, be more visible, connect with people and find out what’s happening with them.

  • Good examples

Well, I have seen leaders do pretty amazing things in understanding the impact on their people. There are other types of leaders as well. Not only are they in the eye of the tornado but a lot of senior leaders or anybody who’s been in on the planning of the change, have already been through the cycle of feeling unsure with the decision to change to the point where they’re certain that change is necessary.

  • Bad examples

When they announce it to the whole organization, they might not have that empathy, social or emotional intelligence, and they expect everyone to go directly to the new structure. Something like it’s my way or the highway. So that’s kind of how it comes across for the ones that don’t get it. And that’s why I think change is a competency for any leaders, any organisations or anyone. Don’t be one of those people that expects everyone to change just because you told them to change and told them all that stuff to walk them across.

  • Research study finding on MBTI of Leaders

Whenever I have worked with organisations, I just give them all the data, stories and S curves. I was an adjunct faculty for the Center for Creative Leadership for many years. And they do lots of 360s. They relate them to profiles like MBTI and the five different profiles and so on. One of the studies that they came up with had correlated those two which I thought was quite interesting. What they found is the people who scored higher in the competency called leading change, were more likely to be extroverted in the NBA and the Myers Briggs type inventory.

  • Inference from study finding

So I tell that to leaders all the time, and I say very simply, “If you’re an introvert, this is not that bad news. What do extroverts do more than introverted leaders?” And they say, “Yeah, they talk a lot more.” And I said, “that’s it.” So if your people are going through a lot of change, you need to talk to them. You need to find out how they’re doing. You need to be more visible, connect with people and find out what’s happening with them.

Q11: Top 3 favourite books on OD change management / leadership?

A: Managing Transitions, The Advantage and Immunity to Change

One is “Managing Transitions” by William Bridges. Another is “The Advantage” by Patrick Lencioni, is about organizational health. If you’re not familiar with this guy, Patrick Lencioni wrote eight, management fables or stories about being a leader. And then he kind of put it all together into a very easy to read book that’s dense with insights.

The book “Immunity To Change” by Robert Kegen and Lisa Lahey is also a very good book. There’s also an HBR article called “The Real Reason People Won’t Change.” I think that’s probably searchable on Google. It gets the point about this unconscious piece. I also recommend looking up Barry Johnson on stability and change. Again, I think it’s pretty easily found Google. So those are a few that come off the top of my head.

Q12: What do you like about OD?

A: The concept of the use of self and the concept of the levels of the system.

One of the two of the concepts that are really close to my heart in the field of OD is use of self. All the work we do, when we’re trying to help organisations or people is about who we are. It’s not just what we do, it’s who we are that does it, right? Bill O’Brien, the CEO of Hanover Insurance Company, says that the impact of any intervention we do is, is related to the internal state of the intervener that is brought. So use of self, understanding who we are, not being judgmental and so on is the first concept that I love.

I like to think of this first concept matching the second one in the way Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups we formed. Somebody was walking with a jar of peanut, chocolate bar, tripped, and the chocolate bar fell and landed in the peanut butter jar. They ate it, and felt wowed by the nice combination.

So I put this use of self thing, together with one of my really useful way of thinking about organisations, which is the levels of the system. So the self and then also how do we interact with others? How do we use ourselves to intervene with other people, teams and larger systems like communities and large organisations? It’s an exploration of the use of self at different levels of the system.

Q13: When is the right time an organisation should bring in an external consultant to help with change?

A: Best scenario is to use internal folks. However, doing an inside-outside partnership can work wonders too. Whereby you hire someone to get the change done, and you shadow them to learn from them as well.

It’s really ideal if there’s internal folks. I mean, if they have a role where there’s internal people that can do it, that’s great. If I think of the two organisations in Singapore in my mind, I believe to have the best OD capability would be the Economic Development Board (EDB), and Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH). TTSH has very, very, very strong internal consultants who can do lots of the change projects because they know the business and people and they’re very skilful. They’re a really good example where they do most of the internal stuff.

Every once in a while, they bring in somebody from the outside who has a different perspective to disrupt the system. Somebody who’s a legitimate guru, like a Peter Senge, or somebody that gets people’s attention. It’s not just them talking about it all the time. So I would say to you to build up as much internal capability as possible. If you’re an internal person who’s hiring anybody externally, I would say, shadow them. If they’re good, shadow and partner with them. Do it as an inside-outside partnership.

Because if you hire a consulting company, for example, and then they come in, do the work and leave without you learning anything from the process, t’s a real missed opportunity. So whenever I work with ministries or companies, I try everything I can. I’m doing stuff with AIC some stuff with them and it really works out great. The internal people, myself and my partner, craft our messages according to what’s helpful. Hopefully they’re learning as well from the process. Hence, I think inside-outside is a nice partnership to have in the process of building up the internal capability.

Q14: What’s an interesting term used in OD?

A: Perceived Weirdness Index (PWI)

I’m not sure you’ve ever heard of this. And I think it’s just a fun term. Jonno Hanafin is his name. He came up with this concept called the Perceived Weirdness Index. If anyone has heard, it was called PWI. If you Google it, you can find it’s a brilliant article. So if you hire somebody from the outside, who looks, talks and sounds the same as the people inside, then they may not get attention or grasp people. If you hire people who are really super weird outside, for example, they come in with tattoos, earrings and dress kind of wild and are too wild, the system will reject them.

Jonno uses this term as a strategy when he meets with clients – he checks on his PWI. He’ll talk to his team and ask, “How weird do we need to be to get their attention, but not be too weird that they reject us?” So I think that’s a nice thing. Some of the organisations I work with, when they look for external people, they really look for PWI.

One friend that I know. when she feels like her organization needs shaking up, she finds Australians. I’m not really exactly sure why, but she says that the Australians come in loud and they’re the ones that are their disruptors. She tells me she can’t can’t hire me because I’m too nice. Which I’m happy about but yes, he says it as a joke. Kind of, but it makes sense, right? Because I fit into the system, even I’m angmoh and look different. I’ve been here a long time and I’m a bit nice and so on. Whereas since they already have all the internal capability, if she ever does hire external, she’ll hire somebody who’s really different to come in and get the attention of the system, which I think is a wonderful strategy.

Q15: How do you think the Singapore government communicates change?

A: It’s very strategic. A great example would be the GST hikes.

For those of you who live in Singapore, I’m sure you can appreciate this. And outside Singapore, you can decide how relevant it is in your own context. Although its effectiveness might be wearing off a little bit, for many, many years, the government and ministers tend to announce how they are thinking about hiked GST, casinos, and so on. And they just keep repeating, how they are going to talk to some people forums and get some feedback and hear people. After hearing that message for about a year and a half, we at least understand why it’s being done, which, of course, is part of the messaging.

Then when it happens, we’re convinced to just go ahead with the change. So I always found that quite clever. Although, like I said, I think it doesn’t work as well as it used to. Today’s people are not as obedient as we used to be. Even though it’s a fun thing, I think there’s a legitimacy to it too. I do think they reach out and get opinions from people, which is why casinos turned into integrated resorts. And there were some concerns from the people that the Casino Regulatory Authority was set up to manage. So I think it is legitimate in that sense, but it is quite an interesting strategy. We can use that with our families and stuff.

Q16: Final words of advice for all the change agents out there?

A: Take care of yourself and stay curious

I don’t have any magic words of advice, I think I’ve already talked too much. But I think when we’re trying to change an organization, it’s hard work. I would say two things. One is, of course take care of ourselves. Two is to be curious about why it’s going the way it’s going.

  • Take care of ourselves

If we really feel like we’re burning out and the system is tired of the change, take a couple weeks off and take a break. I don’t mean to go to the beach or something. But if we can, take a week or two and back off a little bit. Take care of ourselves and let the system percolate a bit. Of course, it shouldn’t affect things like milestones and all that, then that would be good. So I would say let’s take care of ourselves and let’s stay curious. And appreciate the complexity of the organization that we are facing.

  • Stay Curious

Kurt Lewin, the guy who’s credited for founding the field of organisation development, said that if you want to understand a system, try to change it. So when you try to change a system, you get feedback, and it comes in all different forms, from all different people. So he encourages us to be curious about why people act. It’s just data. So maybe people are not resistant to change, but they’re comfortable. They like safety. So is this really worth the risk? So just be curious.

Sometimes the people who are most cynical about change, actually used to be very idealistic. But over years, they’ve been there, their idealism has gotten beaten down, and now they’re more cynical. So I just think it’s helpful also for our spirit and soul, to keep it a bit lighter and be curious about why things go the way they go rather than being judgmental, and making up stories about people about why they do what they do. I mean, I know that’s a natural tendency.

When I was much younger, I was in IT for many years at AT&T and had no idea what change management was. And we went through the biggest divestiture in the history of the world of organisations. We went from one company with over a million full-time people, to eight different companies all split up, and it was a massive change. In the new organization, we used to go to all these big town hall speeches where they would always show a video that was quite funny to get people to lighten up a little bit.

  • Broadcasting of funny videos

For example, there was one video where this very official guy, like the Senior Vice President, said that he was here to talk about the change. He said because of the change, the company was thinking that we’re gonna have a new name since AT&T has been around for 100 years. He said we’re reinventing ourselves now with all these new companies, to change our name from AT&T to something that stands for excellence. He declared that we were now going to be called IBM, which at the time was the best company in the world.

Can you imagine every time we went to a town hall, they would show funny videos like this which got people to lighten up a little bit. So I do think there’s something about it. I don’t mean, take it lightly and dismiss how people are feeling. But if we get too stuck in how people are feeling and over empathise to the point where we go “Oh, my goodness, we shouldn’t have done this. Oh, I feel so sorry for you”, that’s not very helpful, either. Figure out how to walk with them, but at the same time, keep it light.