Simon Terry

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The Rituals of Change

Ancient Pharaohs built elaborate pyramids and sacrificed hundreds of lives in rituals designed to ensure the changes of death had little impact on their lifestyles and to guarantee their future relevance. Our corporate change rituals are no less elaborate, no less dangerous and no more effective.

The Rituals of Change

Fiona Tribe started a conversation on twitter yesterday about change with this question:

Answering the question led me to reflect on how many organisations are closed to change. In fact, the more closed an organisation is to change, the more expensive its change rituals.

We know the standard rituals of Change (I will use the Capitalised Noun to indicate its abstract nature):

  • Make an elaborate announcement of the Change vision, supported with expensive multimedia resources
  • Hire a large well-qualified team to lead the Change project over an extended time period
  • Buy the Change technology with much hoopla
  • Begin running the Change processes and creating the Change documentation
  • Build a Change Lab as the centre of Change worship
  • Create elaborate workshops, training exercises and other activities to enable participation and engagement in the Change
  • Appoint champions as high priests of the Change
  • Issue regular Change communications to encourage belief in the Change.

Belief in the Change is critical. The important point of Ritual Change is that it cannot be criticised as doing change to people. It is Change in purely a metaphysical realm. There is no connection between all these Change Rituals and the actual organisation or business activity.

No wonder the other members of the organisation look on bemused. They see all this Change as a waste of time and money that could be spent solving actual problems. Activities like these contribute to disengagement. Worse still they waste human lives and at times the money and effort wasted on Change can even threaten the entire purpose of the organisation and the lives of its employees.

Because this is purely an exercise in metaphysics and belief, success is also easy.  All it takes to declare success is ardent belief. There are no real world consequences of Change and so no way to test effectiveness.

The cost of all this activity and its scale is important. The level of investment and wasted effort absolves people of the guilt that nothing is actually changing. The CEO gets to look on all the pharaonic investments with the satisfaction that Change has forestalled their own irrelevance.

Real Change is A Conversation

We know what real change looks like. Real change is when behaviours and mindsets in the organisation are different.  That takes conversations, learning, practice and lots of encouragement to persist through the difficulties. It takes an openness and an outward orientation to learn and to grow.

This kind of change can happen quickly or slowly, but it occurs at a human level where the work is occurring.  It occurs through every day activities like conversations, role modelling, practice and coaching.

If you want to survive, prosper and be remembered, don’t build empty monuments to Change. Embed your legacy in the conversations within your organisation.  The positive impacts of better conversations and better learning will long out last you.


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