Loose Change

11 Dec
December 11, 2014

It’s time for loose change – not the type you keep in your pocket or purse but the way we approach change.  Traditionally, change programmes are planned, controlled and tight – but now, in today’s fast-paced world, we need to have loose change.

In earlier posts I’ve written about the need to change transformational change.  In this post, I want to focus on loose change – that is, the change that can and should occur all the time within organisations, not as a formally planned activity but as something that happens as and when necessary and at the appropriate scale required.

Accepted change wisdom

In a previous post I wrote about the three pillars of accepted change wisdom that accompany every programme.  These were:

  1. Change starts from the very top:  it is driven by the CEO, the Executive Board and so on, and these are the very people who will hold the reins of change and direct it – often to failure.
  2. Change is rolled out step-by-step:  first there is the engagement phase, then implementation and so on.  We all know the steps in the dance.  Perhaps it’s operations who will lead, followed by customer service and so on. Planned, controlled and managed.
  3. Change is pre-designed:  rather like a new building, change is often pre-designed with plans and KPIs and a blueprint of what’s going to happen, when and to whom.  It’s written down and there are graphs and plans and diagrams on the walls of ‘war rooms’.

The three approaches above are all part of ‘tight change’ – and for most of us this is the change we’re used to being part of.  But there’s another way – the loose change way – so let’s explore what that really means.

No more top-down

If we adopt a loose change approach then no longer does change become a top-down approach – one that is planned and controlled.  The tradition for top-down change is not only because of the hierarchical design of organisations but also because organisations haven’t worked out how to start the change process from anywhere else!

For most of you reading this post, I suspect that at some point you’ve driven a small element of change within your organisation.  Perhaps it’s the use of technology, perhaps it’s an improved process – but the chances are you made a change at a local level without the need for a large-scale formalised change programme.

Organisations are now encouraging people like you to make these changes on an ongoing basis.  Just think – what would happen if everyone in an organisation pledged to make a small change?  Websites would improve, processes would be reviewed, and indeed a whole host of improvements would be made – not from the top down, but from the inside out.  The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) did just that.  They ran a Change Day in 2013 where 189,000 people pledged to make a change or improvement.  In 2014 the number was over 800,000.  That’s a lot of positive change!

No more selling change

Top-down change has always been sold to the people from the senior tiers of an organisation.  It’s been about the bosses telling the masses what to do – even though the bosses are often at the heart of the very problem they are trying to solve!  Companies – such as in the case of the NHS – are now inviting people to hack the organisation and deliver change.  And it’s not jut the NHS – across the globe the  National Day for Civic Change is making a real difference.

No longer is change being sold to the masses – the masses are now being invited to make the change happen.  This is loose change in action.

No more managing change

Opting out of managing change may sound like a crazy thing to do and I’m not suggesting a complete abstinence of management or control. You can’t have everyone hacking an organisation all at once because something could break.  But instead of heavily managing the change process, it is possible to let go – and let the people who know what’s best get on and make it happen.  Provide support, provide help and guidance – but let the people make the change happen.

Kurt Lewin devised the simplest change model I’ve ever seen – it was his “unfreeze-change-refreeze” model.  Put simply, Lewin suggested that all change starts with the willingness to change what already exists – and what we know is that everyone within an organisation has at least one good change idea they’d love to make happen if only we’d let them!

Conclusions

Letting go of change and putting the people in charge of making it happen can and will deliver hundreds if not thousands of small but meaningful changes.  As leaders, it’s our role to create a support culture for change and then stand back and let it happen.  It’s time to adopt loose change.

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