A Personal Reflection On Change

What is change really about? Why is it that at times folks fight against change and other times folks embrace change?  What is going on here?  Allow me to give you my take by sharing my story with you.

At 9:34am 16th March 2016 I arrived at the Accident & Emergency wing of the Royal Berkshire Hospital. At the end of the day the surgical staff operated on my lower back for three hours. Why? Cauda equina!

Some 10 years ago I started experiencing considerable back pain. The kind of back pain where I could not move. This pain got worse and worse. Eventually I consulted a neurosurgeon. His point of view? One day you will need spinal surgery. His advice? Make lifestyle changes, take painkillers when necessary, and put off surgery for as long as you can so as to benefit from medical know how.

I followed the advice. In the process I gave up almost all of the activities that left me feeling alive: trekking in the mountains, tennis, badminton, cycling, visiting far away places… Eventually I even gave up playing table-tennis.  Please get a sense of my loss: my favourite holidays were those in far away places usually with some trekking in the mountains; my favourite spring/summer sport is tennis; my favourite winter sport is badminton; and I love playing table-tennis.

My wife sensing the loss of my world, and my self, encouraged me, again and again, to undergo surgery.  My mother-in-law  (French) even volunteered to take me to a French surgeon who specialised in spinal surgery.  I refused the surgery (whether in England or in France) and lived with pain.

Why did I refuse to undergo surgery for the last ten years? Was I scared of the operation? No. Was I concerned about all that I would need to do to recover post surgery? No.  Was I worried about the cost of the surgery? No. So why did I not undergo surgery?  Because, I was told that there was a 2 in 100 likelihood that I would be paralysed as a result of the surgery. For me there is no loss more devastating than this one.  This was not a loss I was willing to risk then nor today.

Why did I willing go to the Royal Berkshire Hospital on Wednesday 16th March 2016 and almost beg the surgeons to operate on me? What changed?  Before 16th March there was a 2 in 100 chance that I would be paralysed if I underwent the operation. On the 16th March there was something like a 98 out of 100 chance that I would be paralysed if I did not undergo the operation!

So what is my personal take on change?

1-Folks do not resist change. My 21 years old son quit a management position paying £24k to take a junior position paying £12k. Why? He was bored in his old job – he could do it in his sleep. His new job promises him that which matters to him at this stage of his life.

2-Folks resist loss – the loss of that which matters to them: identity, home, the familiar, social ties, possibilities, status, income, autonomy, choice, dignity.

3-Most organisational change calls forth resistance because folks have rightly worked out that the change involves them being stripped of things that matter to them so that their loss can be turned into gain for those in senior management.

4-Most change management practitioners are charlatans. I know more than one change management expert who cannot (even thought want to) cultivate meaningful / loving relationships with their spouses and/or children. Their knowledge of the dark arts vanishes where it matters the most – at home.

5-If you wish folks to embrace change then ensure that this change genuinely enriches their lives. And here I invite you to reflect back on my story. When the major back surgery showed up as enriching my living (rather than impoverishing it drastically) I willing embraced the surgery.  Now every day involves 3 hours of exercises that are not pleasant yet necessary.

Finally, I leave you with this thought on CX, innovation, and digital transformation: most folks in senior management positions have not really embraced any of these because these show up as risky – they involve loss! Better to talk the talk and continue tinkering (using proven methods) with business as usual to improve short-term earnings.

Customer / Leadership: What Is The Access To Cultivating Greatness?

It is the time of the year that many are pushing out their predictions for 2015. I am not in that business: I lack a crystal ball.  Further, I say that the future is not already made. The future is unborn and how you/i/we show up and operate in this world will shape how 2015 turns out.  So in this final conversation of 2014, I want to share with you my thoughts on what it takes to become great; greatness necessarily involves effecting significant and substantial change.

Let’s assume that you wish to reshape your organisation – to effect significant, substantial, change in the way that the organisation operates.  Perhaps, you wish to transition your organisation from a product-centred orientation towards  customer-centred orientation. And/or shift the fundamental stance of your organisation from ‘extracting value’ from your customers to being generously rewarded (by customers) for simplifying-enriching the lives of your customers. It could be that you want to move from treating your employees as resources (things) to treating them with dignity as fellow human beings…..

What is the access to that?  Is there an organisational equivalent to Ali Baba’s “Open, Sesame!”? You know some kind of hidden magical recipe that provides you access to untold riches, instantly, without significant effort, discipline, and/or sacrifice?  I invite you to answer that for yourself. How has all the strategy stuff worked out? What about all the process change / six sigma stuff? Or the customer journey mapping? What about your investments in CRM systems and other technologies (e.g. IVR) have they taken you to the heights of sales effectiveness and/or customer service delight?  Let’s not forget the VoC feedback- has that unlocked the door to customer loyalty riches?

Greatness does not lie on the road well travelled, greatness lies on the road less travelled. Greatness requires dedication – the kind of dedication that flows from total commitment; this kind of commitment arises in response to a possibility-call that resonates with the very core of your being. Greatness requires the ultimate sacrifice: yourself – your way of showing up in the world and the manner of your travel in this world.  Allow me to give life to this through a story (bolding mine):

There was an artist who was so devoted to her art; nothing else in the world had any attraction for her. She had a studio, and whenever she had a moment to spare her first thought was to go to that studio and work on the statue she was making. People could not understand her, for it is not everybody who is devoted to one thing like this. For a time a person interests himself in art, at other times in something else, at other times in the home, at other times in the theatre. But she did not mind; she went every day to her studio and spent most of her time in making this work of art, the only work of art that she made in her life.

The more the work progressed, the more she began to feel delighted with it, attracted by that beauty to which she was devoting her time. It began to manifest to her eyes, and she began to communicate with that beauty. It was no longer a statue for her, it was a living being. The moment that statue was finished she could not believe her eyes – that it had been made by her….. She felt exalted by the beauty of the statue.

She was so overcome by the impression that this statue made on her that she knelt down before this vision of perfect beauty, with all humility, she asked the statue to speak, forgetting entirely that it was her own work…… there came a voice from the statue: “If you love me, there is only one condition, and that is to take the bowl of this poison from my hand. If you wish me to be living, you no more will live. Is it acceptable?” “Yes,” she said, “You are beauty, you are the beloved, you are the one to whom I give all my thought, my admiration, my worship; even my life I will give to you.” ….. She took the bowl of poison, and fell dead. The statue lifted her and kissed her by giving her its own life, the life of beauty and sacredness …..

– Hazrat Inayat Khan, The Art of Being and Becoming

Let me end this conversation by posing this question: What possibility (or cause) matters to you such that you are willing to be and do as the artist (in the story above)?  It occurs to me that this is question worth pondering and answering as you/i head into 2015. I wish you a great beginning and the very best for 2015.

What Are The Two Challenges At The Heart Of Change?

The Traditional Take On Change

So much has been written on change – particularly organisational change. It occurs to me that this material is mostly written by folks sitting in the stands, observing the game of change being played out on the court by others, and interpreting what they see through their preferred lens – the dominant one being the cognitivist-psychological one.

A favourite of change management orthodoxy is the Kubler-Ross model: the five stages of grief. The ‘love’ of this model (the content – 5 stages of grief) is so strong that almost nobody bothers to grapple with the context.  What am I pointing at?  The fact that this model was derived by speaking with those facing terminal illness.  The skeptic in me asks, is the person confronted with organisational change confronted with death? It occurs to me that the answer is no.

A Phenomenological Perspective On Change

What is the challenge of change as experienced by those on the court – those actually being asked to and undergoing change?  It occurs to me that the ‘as lived-experienced’ challenge of change is made of two challenges.

Challenge 1: The first challenge is that of moving from the comfortable-familiar-normal way of being-travelling in the world to a way of being-travelling that is experienced as uncomfortable-unfamiliar-abnormal and leaves one feeling exposed-vulnerable; and

Challenge 2: The second challenge is that of sticking with this new (abnormal-awkward) way of being-travelling for  long enough for this way of being-travelling to occur as comfortable-familar-normal and thus drop out of conscious awareness.

My lived experience is that most change intentions-effort-initiatives fail because of Challenge 2: the inability to be with that which shows up as unfamiliar-abnormal and experience the discomfort-exposure-vulnerability that goes with this.  This is particularly so for those people, in the organisation, who are in positions of power-privilege based on their familiarity-competence in the ‘way we do things around here’.  And it is not restricted to them: we, all of us, are members of a herd species and we herd around-on that which is familiar-comfortable-habitual-accepted practice.

What is a way of grappling with Challenge 2?  Here I lean on my experience of fasting during the month of Ramadan.  I have been most effective at fasting (no eating, no drinking) when I found myself :

  • in a community of people who are ALL engaged in fasting;
  • each person is struggling and open to sharing his struggle with regards to making the transition for eating-drinking when one wants to not eating-drinking for up to 20+ hours during summer months;
  • members of the fasting community help one another deal with the challenges that come along the way by providing encouragement-support and being living examples of the kind of behaviour that is required given the game that is being played; and
  • where temptation (especially seeing others, influential others, eating-drinking) is absent.

What shows up for me as being particularly interesting is the power of context to influence behaviour.  When I stopped being a muslim (many years ago) I stopped fasting.  Then many years later on, in the midst of summer, I found myself fasting voluntarily despite not being a muslim and no pressure to fast.  Why?  Because, I found myself in the midst of people whom I liked socially, and who turned out to be practising muslims.