Why do corporations find change so hard?

workplace change

Workplace change is a time management problem. Not the to-do list, prioritising, task orientated kind of time management. The psychological kind.

“You don’t bring about change in real big meetings or virtual meetings. You bring it about one person at a time, face to face—when we discover we have some common interests and we’re both pissed off…And so we create a conspiracy. It’s a subversive act, and being co-conspirators in a subversive act requires trust and intimacy.”

Tom Peters – McKinsey Quarterly September 2014

I won’t resist change if it means something to me personally, and I get to keep the things I value. If it’s aligned with my values and beliefs, and your values and beliefs, we might even encourage it along. Those values are accumulated over time, they’re how we become who we are. We can’t change them at the whim of a new CEO who’s decided that the Future we believed in yesterday has no value today.

It’s like trying to rewrite a story when most of it has already been written. Retconning, might be alright in Doctor Who and comic books, but in real life we tend to believe that the Future is driven by the Past, not the other way around. It’s only a belief, but one we’re very attached to.

So mistake number one is failure to link the Past with the Future. Mistake number two is neatly summarised by this quote from “Why Corporate’s Can’t Change” by Bob Marshall from his blog “Think Different”

“people’s behaviours change when their beliefs about how to get their needs met, change”

So if you can align your change programme with our motivations (another word for meeting how we meet our own needs), you’ll stand a much better chance of changing our behaviour. Problem is, we’re all motivated differently, and your standard corporate change programme tends to be a sheep dip that we’re led through by the nose. That, or the “motivation” tools are the carrot and stick – both extrinsic and proven to be ineffective at effecting change that sticks.

So why is this a time management problem? Here’s why:

Time Well SpentThis is Ilona Boniwell’s model of “Time Satisfaction”. The five factors that determine how satisfied we are with the way we use our time. Motivation is the engine that drives us to do what we do, and whether we do it at all. Full disclosure: Ilona’s research, together with Philip Zimbardo’s is what’s gone into our Time Intelligence Report.

How can it be fixed? If I want to change myself, or if you want to change me, it has to be a coherent story, connecting the Past, Present and Future, and it has to connect to my own sense of what’s important to me – so it’s an inside job. It has to be personal and meaningful to me.


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5 ways to make personal change stick

time for change

Where did the Summer go? September always seems to be a time of change, this year more than ever. I’ve moved house, my youngest is about to go to University. Change is happening to me, whether I like it or not. The house move was sudden and unwanted, my daughter going to University was foreseeable, but neither have been easy to get comfortable with, so it’s been a stressful Summer.

It got me thinking about the prospect of change generally, and the superhuman efforts we go to, to keep things the way they are. Even when things aren’t they way they are any more, and even when we really want to change, it’s hard not to keep the past nailed into place, to revert back to the old ways.

So how can we make personal change stick? How can we do it with less effort, maybe even welcome it occasionally? Research shows that will power isn’t enough, it’s a finite resource, and quickly depleted.

1) Momentum is important. Define the small steps and make some progress towards your big goal every day.

2) Instead of willpower, use your environment to give you simple cues that will automate your thought processes. “If I’m in the bathroom, I need to floss my teeth”. “If I feel like I want to eat a doughnut, I distract myself with a Sudoku puzzle. I keep the puzzle book in the kitchen, where the doughnuts used to live”

3)  Don’t make your new habit a standalone thing. Incorporate it into a set up routine. “When I make an important phone call, my setup routine is X, Y Z. Then I’m ready to make the call”

4) Make it easy on yourself. The Walker brothers were right. If you’ve decided to go for a run first thing in the morning, get your kit ready the night before, leave it where it’s easy to pull on before you have too much time to talk yourself out of it, and before anything else in your routine can get in the way.

5) Get your story straight. Why are you making this change in the first place? What are the long-term benefits, that your future self will thank you for. What does it say about you, about who you are, who you were, and who you’re going to be?

These need some translation to use in a work context – and I’ll be covering that in next week’s post.

Connecting the Past to the Present

Murphy GGP Soldiers EchoThis photo was taken in 1916, when five of my great uncles came home on leave from the Western Front. Tom, on the left had emigrated to Australia in 1910 but accidentally bumped into two of his brothers when they were all fighting in France. They wangled some leave home to Liverpool, at the same time as their two other brothers and this photo was taken, together with my great grandparents, to commemorate the reunion. There are six other siblings, including my paternal grandfather, who were not in the photo, but even so, the family resemblances are there.

“I’m from a long line of survivors”

When this photo appeared in the Liverpool Echo last week, my cousin posted it on Facebook another, virtual, family reunion took place as my cousins and I tried to piece together half-remembered stories and legends about our family, together with a family tree I’d never seen before. A reunion from nearly 100 years ago brought about another one in the present day and demonstrated the power of the past to connect us with each other and our ancestors. The picture made it all real, especially as it was published on the centenary of World War 1. All of the brothers made it back at the end of the war, some more damaged than others, but I’m from a long line of survivors.

Being able to connect to the past is important, it makes me feel part of something bigger than me. My great grandparents had 11 children, so there must hundreds of their descendants spread all over the world, as well as the ones still in Liverpool. It’s not a feeling of nostalgia for the past, so much as a connectedness through the past to the present, and even the future.

The story illustrates two things  for me. Firstly, we humans need to be part of a larger whole – whether that’s our family, our wider social network, or our wider business connections. Secondly, links to the past need to be fostered just as much as our present day connections, otherwise we’re just drifting in space and time, with no real roots.