Change Irritant



Change Irritant

To state the bleeding obvious – change in organisations is hard.

That’s why I have a job. I asked Dr. Google about change and got about 350,000,000 results.

Clients we work with tell us they know they need to change in order to respond to what is happening in the external environment but despite “getting it” at an intellectual level, there is inertia amongst their people to make it happen. One even asked, “what catastrophe has to occur before our people change?”


Adaptive issues

Many clients are facing what we call “Adaptive” issues, challenges for which there are no simple, painless solutions. Problems that require us to learn new ways… like finding yourself in an uncompetitive industry, or an industry going through a digital revolution.

One significant reason for our change-inability that social scientists have found is that human beings are biased towards maintaining the status quo. It is our preferred state. (McKinseys article).

Despite all the evidence in the world, we often prefer to keep our head in the sand and hope things will pass (like annoying change consultants).


Create some tension

As a leader you need to create healthy tension. This goes against much of traditional wisdom about protecting your people and cushioning the blow for them. The pearl in this picture needed an irritant of a piece of sand, what is it in your environment?

I’m not talking about bad behaviour here. I’m talking about the type of tension created by exposing people to the hard questions, demanding that they sit with them and struggle to find solutions.


Dial it up and dial it down

Heifetz in his adaptive leadership work talks of dialing tension up and dialing tension down. Using the analogy of a pressure cooker, a leader must create a “holding environment”, turning up the heat while allowing some steam or pressure to escape. If the pressure exceeds the cooker’s capacity the cooker can explode, however, nothing cooks without some heat.

Darren Hill at the recent ‘future of leadership’ conference in Melbourne spoke about the brain science of change, specifically managing the neurotransmitters of pressure; adrenaline and cortisol. Sometimes we need to promote these, especially during times when people must shake things up, put in extra discretionary effort or break out of inertia.

  • How are you turning up the tension for your people to create the discomfort necessary to spark change?
  • How do you let them take some pressure off?
  • Can you allow them to express the discomfort and pain of change while still keeping them progressing and seeing benefits of change?
  • Can you hold steady in the midst of this?



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