Managing change is far from common sense

In the last week three senior business people I know, who are in the midst of organisation change, have expressed frustration at the behaviour of those involved and ended with “it’s just common sense”. Why does this situation repeat itself?

Our colleagues share this sort of frustration when they need to make sense of ‘no sense’. Knowing that the thing called “common sense” doesn’t really exist, we still express our frustrations at what we consider to be ‘poor situations easily avoided’ in this short-hand way.

What is really being said? That’s more complicated; the behaviour or situation we have experienced or witnessed could have been avoided if a reasonable and thoughtful approach was used when addressing the requirement or situation, or the circumstances had been fully considered and judged as appropriate …in our (much better) view. That is at the heart of it – we think we know better. Maybe we just know different?

It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that action taken in the midst of change, if deliberate and not in error, made sense to someone when viewed through their frame of reference. Were they operating with the organisation’s interests in mind? – perhaps they felt they were. Were they operating with interest in relation to themselves or a particular group? – perhaps we have not given a complete picture of the change as it relates to them, or they disagree with our approach.

When planning for change we need to take care that the interests, issues and concerns of those impacted by the change are taken into account – because what makes sense to one group may well not make sense to another. Our communication should seek to understand their perspective and our response should make sense to them, in light of what will be different for them in that future state of change. We can test out whether the change makes sense before taking it broadly (maybe through a pilot or trial). We can seek feedback on proposals (through interviews, polls, surveys or focus groups). We can decide that it’s something that just needs to be done and there is no improvement in it for the stakeholder, and chose not to consult (but they still need to know how it’s different at some point). We can also be prepared, rather than surprised – by considering the change risks, deciding whether more action is warranted or putting mitigations in place.

In the end, as leaders, there will be times during a change programme when we will be surprised or disappointed by something. If this happens because we have chosen to act without understanding the perspective of a stakeholder, then it will be someone else who disputes our “common sense”. So work it out – is it worth it? how much change-pain can you bear?

< Back to blog


Last 5 Posts