How To 'Drive' Change

To drive and understand change, you should ask yourself three questions... Why is change hard? Why is change in a group even harder? What do I need to do to really grasp the concept of change?

Having explained our pragmatic approach for creating Leadership in Organizational Project Management in my previous blog, let’s dive a bit deeper into the concept of ‘Change’. As said, we need to give ‘Change’ some thought first. So let’s discover some fundamentals.

1. Understanding ‘Change’ basics: Definitely not ‘business as usual’; it changes routines!

Yes ‘Change’ is difficult. Maintaining the status quo is much easier. Simply not changing and keep doing what the majority does. We often need to overcome a certain level of resistance to change, because we can’t act on routines anymore; we need to pay attention again! When trying to change something in our behavior, we may already experience how hard it is to change ‘habits’.

Have you ever tried a diet or stop smoking?  Then you know how hard it can be to change, and to establish new and better habits. It’s definitely not easy.  Nevertheless it’s interesting to see that, if we really want to, we humans can be very good at learning new routines. The best example I’ve recently experienced is my 18 years old daughter getting her driving license. A big change for her and yes, also a big change for me. I’m now anticipating the moment that I want to use my car, only to discover that it’s gone – Recognizable :-)?

2. Understanding ‘Change’ basics: recognizing the ‘individual level’

Confused driving catJust think about the complexity of the change on an individual level, of learning a new routine and being able to drive a car. Where it feels like you have to do hundreds of things at the same time. If you think about it, it’s surprising that we can master that new skill at all. But, in order to enable that, we have created some rules, like the design of a car. How it typically operates, where the pedals are, where which button is and what it does. You immediately recognize where car designers thought differently – with these cars you really have to think twice because it’s deviating from what we’re used to – and then we call it ‘a car with Character’.

3. Understanding ‘Change’ basics: recognizing the ‘group level’

On top of that we have created some rules on a group level. Like ‘Who takes priority?’ and ‘On which side of the road shall we drive?’. You can have it either way, left or right, as long as everyone respects these mutually agreed rules. Not respecting these rules will definitely create accidents (like driving in the middle of a bidirectional road … doesn’t seem like a good idea to me.)

A pit bull attitudeSo changing our ‘habits’ as a group is even more difficult. Typically when it becomes difficult there is a high chance that the majority of the group wants to stick to ‘normal’, because it’s easier (routine). And ‘Changing the way we Change’, thus creating and practicing a shared approach on ‘How we change?’, is really like reaching for the top bar. It takes a ‘pitbull’ attitude – once we grabbed it we don’t let go – and a lot of focus and communication with our stakeholders, our environment. We have to support them in changing ‘their old routines’ into ‘their new routines’. And for realizing that as a group, you need to focus together, you need to choose together, you need to be selective together. So changing on an individual level was already hard, changing on a group level really seems like being close to impossible, because every stakeholder has different interests. And what may benefit you, may cause a disbenefit for someone else.

4. Practicing ‘Change’ basics: practice, practice, practice…

By application of these individual rules – for operating my car – and these group rules – the traffic code – we really learn how to drive. It’s only by practicing – not just reading the car manual and the traffic code book or listening to someone who tells you the ‘theory of driving and all related aspects’ – that you really get the experience. And as a result you can show ‘preferred and acceptable behavior’ to the driving examiner which gives the impression that you have a sufficient skill level to go out on yourself … and pass the test!

These are some fundamental concepts you need to understand when dealing with ‘Change’. When you understand these fundamentals and apply them in practice it will feel like learning how to drive.

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