#154: The Pitch - doing change

In episode 150, I reintroduced this series with a new pitch. It was my way of taking what I've learnt over the last three years, the last 150 episodes, and almost 33 hours of content and updating the why the podcast. Over the coming episodes, I'll take a deeper dive into the themes of the pitch and why they made the cut.

In this episode, I follow on from last weeks introduction of change, brought on by the current Age of Software and Digital, by providing more evidence of change - along with why change shouldn't be something that happens to an organisation - change should be something that an organisation "does".

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Published: Wed, 16 Nov 2022 16:48:42 GMT



In episode 150, I reintroduced this series with a new pitch. It was my way of taking what I've learnt over the last three years, the last 150 episodes, and almost 33 hours of content and updating the why the podcast.

Over the coming episodes, I'll take a deeper dive into the themes of the pitch and why they made the cut. If you've not listened to the pitch, it's probably worth pausing this episode and listen to the pitch in episode 150 for context.

Last week I talked about why I started with introducing the Age of Software and Digital - I wanted to introduce the current technological revolution as a background for the explosion of opportunities and risks affecting our organisations and thus why our businesses need to change.

To really emphasise the effects this current technical revolution is having, I wanted to remind you of how much has changed within your own careers. In the pitch, I said:.

"During the course of my 30 year career, we have gone:

From it being a rarity of having a computer in the office - let alone the home

To now having computers and software in everything we do

We have them in our phones, in our watches, our televisions, our refrigerators, our washing machines, our cars, our exercise equipment, and even in our children's toys."

Now, I'm arguably just over halfway through my career. I could conceivably work for another 20 to 30 years. Which begs the question, what will our world look like at that point?

The short answer is no one knows.

We can guess. We can make predictions. But I'm still waiting for the hover car that was predicted in the 1950s.

I hope that by reminding of the changes you have witnessed personally, that you too would realise how much change is occurring.

Change will occur - the choice then becomes one of change "happening" to our organisations or change being something that our organisation "does".

And this is probably the key message of the last few episodes: Change shouldn't be something that happens to an organisation. Change should be something that an organisation does.

Change happening to is passive. It's reactive. It's always being on the back foot. It's being unprepared and fumbling from one disaster to another.

Doing Change is active, is proactive. It's always been one step ahead. It's being prepared and dancing through the minefield of those potential disasters.

But change is hard. Change is scary. We almost have an ingrained fear of change.

This is explained well by the Kubler-Ross change curve.

The change curve came out of the work by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross to describe the five stages of grief:

  • Denial,
  • Anger,
  • Bargaining,
  • Depression,
  • and Acceptance.

While originally the work was related to the personal stages of someone accepting they were dying, the same stages can be found for anyone going through major disruption with these emotional responses leading to a resistance to change.

I know that I've been through this cycle plenty of times in my personal and professional life without realising it - maybe it's a major change, like redundancy or something more minor, like change in team direction.

Priyanka Malik summarises the five stages in the context of change within the workspace - I'll link through to an article, but from the article:

"1. Denial

The first stage is shock or denial, and an individual puts forward their defense mechanisms to deflect the actual occurrence of the change. There is a steep decline in employee productivity in this stage, as it’s only human to cling to past processes or individual expectations, leading to a disconnect with reality. 

2. Anger

When the reality of change sinks in, it’s manifested in the form of fear or anger. Any change initiative has the potential to spiral out of control in this stage, resulting in significant change failures. 

3. Bargaining

Once an individual crosses the anger stage of the change curve, they attempt to salvage the situation by exploring the path of least objection. They may try to negotiate and find a compromise.

4. Depression

In the depression stage, a person loses hope entirely. There are signs of extreme sadness, regret, and demotivation.

5. Acceptance

In the final stage of the change curve, individuals come to terms with the change. Their inhibitions are lowered, they accept the change, and start to explore new favorable opportunities that are a result of the change. Once employees accept the change, you must cement the change into your organizational culture to avoid reverting to old habits."

I'll include a link to the article in the show notes.

Traditionally, the five stages are drawn out as a curve, with the Denial phase being the start of a drop in productivity and engagement continuing to drop away to its lowest point during the Depression phase, only starting to return to previous levels once the Acceptance phase is in place.

In the ideal world, you want to minimise that dip. You want to minimise any time spent by an individual, team or organisation in any of the Denial, Anger, Bargaining or Depression phases.

And this is where "doing" change comes in.

By doing change, we get better at it as individuals and organisations. It becomes second nature to us. It becomes a non-event.

I've talked about this previously in the podcast a number of times under different guises:

Devops teaches us that if something is painful and difficult to do, then to do it more often - you will get better at it. If you currently only release your website every six months because of the overhead effort and risk, then start doing it more often. Do it daily. By doing so, you're forcing yourself to deal with a pain points and to reduce the friction to make it a non-event.

Gamedays can be used to rehearse and role play major events. It's like a fire drill. You're preparing the organisation's muscle memory to handle the event - again, turning a major event into a non-event.

It's like going to the gym. If you go to the gym on a regular basis, then you will improve. If you go to the gym once and attempt to lift the heaviest weight, you will enjoy yourself. You are simply not prepared for it.

Two short books stand out as parables for being prepared for change:

  • Who Moved My Cheese by Dr. Spencer Johnson
  • Our Iceberg is Melting by John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber

Both are rather short books written as parables on accepting change happens and then actively preparing for it.

In Who Move My Cheese, we follow the exploits of two mice, Sniff and Scurry, and two little people, Hem and Haw, all of whom live in a maze and whose main goal is to find cheese.

Life is good for Hem and Haw when they find a massive stash, they're in hog's heaven, they have a massive amount of cheese. Soon they adjust to their status quo and while away their days enjoying their cheese.

All the while, Sniff and Scurry, even though they found the large stash, they continued to scamper around the maze, always on the hunt for the next cheese stash. They realised that no stash was forever and they needed to always be on the hunt for more.

Time passes and the inevitable happen: Hem and Haw run out of their cheese stash, which quickly prompts the Denial, Anger and Depression as seen in the Kubler-Ross change curve. They've been so used to the cheese being there. Something must be wrong. It's unfair. Why is there no cheese? Maybe if they waited, cheese would appear. Maybe someone has moved their cheese.

All in all, an unfair lot for poor Hem and Haw.

Meanwhile, of course Sniff and Scurry, continue to find cheese. Some days are better than others, but they keep their cheese finding skill sharp and never experienced the same feast to famine as Hem and Haw.

The moral of the story: no cheese stashes are infinite, so you must be prepared for it to going away and keep looking for that next cheese stash. Or change will happen, have the correct attitude and preparedness allowing you to handle the change better.

While in Our Iceberg is Melting, we follow the story of a colony of penguins happily living on an iceberg. That is, until the hero of our story, Fred, realises that there is a crisis, that their long term home is melting.

The story takes us through Fred's efforts to build a sense of urgency when there is apathy - the colony has lived on the iceberg for generations, why would there be a problem now?

Initially defeated Fred could have left it there, but rather penguin by penguin, Fred manages to convince key members of the colony of the problem until momentum takes hold and the problem is accepted and understood.

The story continues with the penguins creating a working party who generate solutions to the problem and ultimately the colony become nomadic - finding and moving to another iceberg. But also then retain the same exploratory and creative problem solving skills for looking for the next and the next, knowing that no iceberg is forever.

In the final chapters, the author suggests how groups can learn from the penguin colonies experience. Especially important is the eight point process for creating successful change:

  • generate urgency,
  • collect a guide team,
  • create a vision and strategy,
  • send out a clear, inspiring message,
  • encourage others to take action,
  • get momentum with quick wins,
  • keep moving forward,
  • and embed the new change in the group culture.

And that sense of urgency has always been something I wanted this podcast series to address.

I find that so many organisations simply are not aware or not prepared to accept change is a way of life.

Change is not something that should be treated as secondary to an organisation, as a discrete project. It is something that must be at the heart of the organisation.

And possibly this is the paradox of this podcast (and many other books and podcasts on the same subject), why would you be listening to a podcast that promotes the need for change if you don't recognise the need for it?

My hope is that bit by bit, the message makes it out there. Like Fred convincing one penguin at a time, we start to build the momentum to move the entire colony.

Thank you for taking the time to listen to this podcast. I look forward to speaking to you again next week.