Organisational change does not simply require management; it needs leadership. Philip Cox-Hynd is a change implementation specialist and author of Mindfulness and the Art of Change by Choice. Here he explores how you can create real change in your school
One of the paradoxes of being human is this; on the one hand we are probably the most adaptive species that has ever lived on this planet – our ability to change, do things differently, learn from those challenges and move on is quite extraordinary. On the other hand, try getting someone to do something they don’t want to do or see the point of doing!
To most organisations change feels like an imposition rather than a choice and imposition is usually met with resistance.
Awareness breathes responsibility breaths accountability
Imagine you are driving at 36mph in a 30mph area and a policeman stops you with a radar gun. You may not like it, but your awareness of the law is such that you will probably, if reluctantly, move to the next stage of dealing with change, that of ownership, or taking responsibility for your actions, and so, when the fine comes through the letter box, you will probably be accountable and pay the fine.
Now imagine you are driving down the same piece of road a month later, carefully driving at 26 miles per hour and the same copper jumps out of a bush with a radar gun and you go “What?!” and the policeman replies “Well this is a dangerous piece of road and we reduced the speed limit to 20 mph last week; we just haven’t got around to putting the new signs up yet.”
My truthful reaction is probably unprintable. Suffice to say, I’ll be damned if I’ll be accountable and pay for something unfair that I refuse to take responsibility for (regardless of ignorance being no defence of the law) because I wasn’t made aware of the law change in the first place!
Now this analogy may sound a little far-fetched until we realise that most people in organisations feel change is imposed on them. This is to do with the change being ‘received’ as follows; people are asked to be accountable for doing things differently without ever having really bought into, let alone feeling responsible for, the benefits of this change. Therefore, the level of awareness for doing things differently is way less than the change would demand if it were embraced.
Change by choice
The key to ‘change by choice’ boils down to the level of engagement that is created.
I’ve often said to leaders whilst discussing engagement, and me subtly looking at their wedding ring, “Did you get engaged?” The look on their face at this out-of-context question is usually followed by a pause and then a, “Yes, for a year,” or a similar time period. I then ask, “How did you get engaged – through a few emails, a PowerPoint, or perhaps a bit of an away day?” With most, the penny droops.
The majority of leaders who make changes have had weeks, if not months, to think through the options before they decided on the changes they propose. However, they then attempt to communicate these changes top-down through presentations, etc. This level of engagement is usually insufficient to truly achieve the level of ownership or responsibility needed.
Creating real change
The only way to create real change by choice is to engage staff with leaders in a two-way conversation, a conversation whereby the problem is jointly agreed. It’s only when the nature of a problem is agreed between leader and follower that there can be any chance of mutually acceptable solutions being found.
When Jeremy Hunt ended up with a long running battle with junior doctors over new contracts there was a failure at the beginning to sit down and agree the common objective. Instead, the agenda was to move too quickly towards changes in contracts being the only solution. This was certainly not change by choice.
For real and effective change, the engagement process can take longer, but the results will be more sustainable if the change by choice process is properly followed.
Philip Cox-Hynd is a change implementation specialist and