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Is This The New Normal?

Updated: Feb 15, 2022


Leading Constant Change

This is going to be different. It will be the first full year in a post pandemic/ recessionary era where only a small few feel a positive difference, despite the government recovery figures.

Life for many is still as tough and as uncertain as it was a few years ago, and we may just have to acknowledge the fact that this is it – this is the new normal. Get on with it.

So how do we get moving and what is the biggest challenge facing us?

Benjamin Franklin (1706-90 in a letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, 1789, famously said; “‘In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

In today’s world most people have changed the words to reflect our current state, to;

“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes and change.”

In our modern world of constant and accelerating change, many would agree. The technological advances, the ballooning of the world’s population and the furthering of our scientific know-how, puts many of us in a spin, wondering what quantum leaps mankind will take next year, or closer to home, just what will change in our business and consumer markets.

So why, I wonder do we spend so little time proactively seeking new and better ways to manage “change” in our Organisations?

We spend time writing wills, setting up trusts, planning funerals, last wishes, pensions and life insurance – quite a lot of detailed planning goes into these arrangements.

We also spend time as businesses and Organisations, ensuring compliance with our tax laws, in some cases a huge amount of time accounting for our income or profit both on an organisational level and also a personal one.

But what about CHANGE? What do we do to proactively manage the constant need to change?

Most organisations are using and implementing the Fayol model of structure in its simplistic form of; Managing Director, with functional Directors in the areas of Production/Operations, Finance and Sales.

But did you know Fayol’s real scope of work developed 14 principles of management in order to help managers manage their affairs more effectively?

Organisations in technologically advanced countries interpret these principles quite differently from the way they were interpreted during Fayol’s time as well. These differences in interpretation are in part a result of the cultural challenges managers face when implementing this framework.

The fourteen principles are: (1) Division of work, (2) Delegation of Authority, (3) Discipline, (4) Chain of commands, (5) Congenial workplace, (6) Interrelation between individual interests and common organisational goals, (7) Compensation package, (8) Centralisation, (9) Scaled supplier chains, (10) Order, (11) Equity, (12) Job Guarantee, (13) Initiatives, (14) Team-Spirit or Esprit de corps.

To develop a system of Management that responds, plans and executes programmes to manage constant change however, even Fayol may have been challenged.

His Principle number 6 however would suggest that he was already onto something that would eventually provide the answer.

It is of course the relationship between individual’s interests and the Organisational Goals that holds the key

Change is the big issue for many if not most human beings. We fear the unknown, regret that the glorified past has gone, and with technology moving so fast we sometimes just don’t hold all of the knowledge necessary to make a decision.

So we try not to.

Couple that with the oppressive regimes of Audit and the extensive PROCESS led management that we have imposed upon ourselves, and we now have senior Managers who are managing to constantly lower risk, reduce variation and suppress change, instead of innovating for the new tomorrow.

Is it any wonder then why we don’t consider skills to manage constant change a priority when all of our social and business systems are driven to reduce change, drive out variations and maintain a predictable path ahead?

We train hard in the areas of Leadership, but ignore that the basis of a Leader is tomove outside of the rules in order to find a way to get things done. We train in finance, in process, in IT and basic human management, using “Managing by Objectives” (Peter Huber) type cultures.

Modern Management techniques are still firmly anchored in Positivist thinking, where hard evidence is critical, as opposed to Interpretivists.

Positivists believe that the social world (as the natural world) is made up of facts which can be studied. It is the search for laws of social behavior using the logic and methods of the natural sciences. Positivists argue that by applying scientific principles of research to the study of society, Sociologists will be able to put forward proposals for social change which will lead to a better society.

Interpretivists believe that society cannot be treated as a science. They stress the ability of individuals to exercise control and choices over their actions and because everyone is different with different views and attitudes it is not possible to use scientific methodology to study society. Scientific approaches are not suitable for the study of the people that work in our Businesses.

And so our current Management training and theories focus on “hard thinking”, on process and rules, for without that we are surely lost?

In moving forwards, most enlightened Leaders and some Managers now take on board the Interpretivists views that people are not automatons, and that their individual thoughts, beliefs, ideas and attitudes will become their behavior and will directly affect their performance in the workplace.

Most Managers I speak to are abhorred by the thought that need to understand a little about people, their fears and motivators, ambitions and blockages, whilst they are at work, for surely the soft stuff happens at home only?

Their abhorrence comes through lack of knowledge, lack of proper training and the lack of Leadership instruction to modify their techniques, to cope and adapt to this fast paced world.

Consequently, we are still trying on the whole, to manage a workforce in the most traditional ways of measurement and rules, missing the opportunity to more fully engage with our people to gain competitive advantage by the early and willing adoption and acceptance of CHANGE.

Training your Managers to be competent at managing Change need not be a course in psychology. There must be just sufficient attention paid to the intellectual welfare of the workforce however, and then to translate that into the “hard” business planning processes that drive most of our businesses.

Proactively training your senior team in the principles of driving people based change, will enhance the competitiveness and competency of your Business in the next decade.

The real question for you now, is how long you will wait to take the step forwards, or will you, like many cling to the position of yesterday, and eventually will succumb to hard market pressures, and your ambitious and enlightened competitors.

(Philip Webb – author of “Leading Constant Change” – FT Publishing)

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