The wisest words you will ever read on leadership and organisational change?


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Making the transition to customer-centricity involves ‘change’

Once the euphoria of being a customer-centric organisation has worn off you have to get to grips with reality: today your organisation is neither designed for nor led nor managed for customer-centricity. How do you make that transition? If you think conventionally then you will think about change and change management. And when you are there, you will fall for the spells of change management consultants.

They will pander to your needs and beliefs: they will tell you that with their particularly methodology / tool set you can orchestrate and manage (control) change in your organisation. Look underneath the hood and their change methodology / tool set is likely to be some variant of the Kubler-Ross grief cycle. Look deeper into your ‘change management’ consultants and your likely to find that these folks have never held positions of authority nor led any real world organisational change. The lack the lived experience of what organisational change involves, how it is handled, how it tends to turn out.

I have been involved in organisational change for over 20 years – starting with being ‘parachuted in’ to take charge of a failing motor dealership. I assert that if you take the traditional ‘change management’ approach then you have built struggle, hardship, resistance and ultimately failure into your change journey. Before you go down that route I simply wish to share with you some of the wisest words I have ever read on organisational change. The hallmark of wisdom is that it tends to come out of lived experience and often has a paradoxical aspect to it. Why? Because human life is like that: it is not neat and ordered (as in the management textbooks), it is messy, it is paradoxical. I don’t want you to take my word on that matter, I simply wish to share with you some of the wisest words I have come across on the subject of leadership and organisational change.

Wise words on leadership & organisational change?

“Examining what went wrong at Buffalo altered forever the way I think about change. Martin Meyerson had the first thing that every effective leader needs – a powerful vision of the way that the organisation should be, a vision he was able to communicate to me and many of his other recruits. But unless a vision is sustained by action, it quickly turns to ashes.

In ways that only later became clear, we undermined the very thing we wanted the most. Our actions and even our style tended to alienate the people who would be most affected by the changes we proposed. Failing to appreciate the importance to the organisation of the people who are already in it is a classic management mistake, one that new managers and change oriented administrators are especially prone to make……..we acted as if the organisation hadn’t existed until the day we arrived.

There are no clean slates in established organisations. A new administration cannot play Noah and build the world anew ………… Talk of new beginnings is so much rhetoric – frightening rhetoric to those who suspect that the new signals the end of their careers. At Buffalo we newcomers disregarded history. But without history, without continuity, there can be no successful change. A.N. Whitehead said it best: “Every leader, to be effective, must simultaneously adhere to the symbols of change and revision and the symbols of tradition and stability.”

What most of us in organisations really want (and what status, money, and power serve as a currency for) is acceptance, affection, self-esteem. Institutions are more amenable to change when the self esteem of all members is preserved and enhanced. Whatever people say, given economic sufficiency, they stay in organisations and feel satisfied in them because they feel competent and valued. Change carries the threat of loss. When managers remove that threat, people are much freer to identify with the adaptive process and much better equipped to tolerate the high degree of ambiguity that accompanies change.

When I think of Buffalo, I think of that joke “How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?” The answer is “One, but the light bulb really has to want to change.” Organisations change themselves when members want to. You can’t force them to change, even in a Batman cape.”

Warren Bennis writes these words in his book An Invented Life, Reflections on Leadership and Change. The book really speaks to me and I am enjoying reading it. If you are in a leadership position and involved in organisational change then I recommend it – it is more a biography than an academic tome that sends you to sleep. Better still it is based on real life experience – lived experience, rather than theory cooked up in sterile academic towers.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Maz Iqbal
Experienced management consultant and customer strategist who has been grappling with 'customer-centric business' since early 1999.


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