Do you feel like the heron or the hippo?
Have you ever wondered why your leadership team’s change initiatives keep getting blocked? “Darn it, why won’t they change?” “ACME Consultants promised this would work.” “We followed best practice!”
What if it wasn’t their fault? No, not the consultants’, but the people who you want to change, but who don’t seem to change?
Often the place to look when something isn’t working as you expected or hoped is in the mirror, not through a window.
In our experience, the solution to failed change initiatives isn’t a better, shinier initiative to fix the people, but rather a reflection on the question “I wonder what’s in the way?”
We recently worked with a senior leadership team who felt blocked. In particular, the MD felt that, for whatever reasons, so many of their change initiatives hadn’t turned out the way that they had hoped. They now wanted to lead a new, transformative initiative, but knew that they needed their senior leadership team’s buy-in. Their leadership team, when we discussed the initiative, thought that it was a high risk initiative, and they.felt that they weren’t ready. This is where things got interesting. Each person seemed to be making up reasons why now was not a good time to move forward with the proposed transformative initiative. What quickly became clear was the lack of shared awareness of what was happening in the meeting and what was happening in their organisation that made the change improbable.
We noticed that there was something holding them back, but it was unclear what. With the team not on board, we had to iterate. And we decided to focus on what’s holding them back. This wqs our entry point.
Bringing the group together we asked Bill O’Brien’s famous question “How is it that we continue to co-create results that nobody wants?” The rich conversation which followed illustrated the lack of awareness of the invisible forces which were guiding their choices and actions. And that’s normal. It happens to us and to everyone all of the time: we go on autopilot when making decisions.
In this case we realised that the next step was to uncover those invisible drivers of their actions, first on an individual level and then with the group. We started with 1:1 Immunity to Change mapping to help everyone identify where they stood in their own way when trying to make a change. And building on that, we did a Group Mapping of the senior leadership team’s collective Immunity to Change. We were guided by Jung’s famous maxim: Until we make the unconscious conscious, it will direct our lives and we will call it fate.
Having walked through this process and having had these conversations, this senior leadership team was now ready to freely, and consciously choose, what actions they would take.
This case highlights that leadership awareness is the single greatest point of influence that senior leadership teams have. Why? Because the change possible in organisations is limited by the leadership mindset of the organisation’s senior leaders. Organisations cannot grow and thrive beyond what its leaders can conceive of. The increasing complexity of the world and contexts in which organisations operate requires leaders to build their capacity to deal with complexity. This starts with increasing their internal complexity, by seeing blind spots and by increasing their ability to freely choose their actions, rather than being driven by fears and limiting beliefs .
What allowed this team to be successful was three things:
- Adopting an iterative approach. They gave themselves permission to not know the next step until they had completed the previous step. We thus co-created the process with the team over time.
- Curiosity. To paraphrase Geoff Marlow, a lack of curiosity is the reason that so many external initiatives are unsuccessful. They don’t focus precisely enough and deeply enough on shifting the mindsets of the key influencers who are unique to the organisation and its context.
- Relationship. By deepening relationships, greater trust and safety was created. This enabled more forthright, candid conversation. And that allowed that team to move forward in alignment around “what needs to happen next.”
The increasingly complex, volatile and ambiguous world in which leaders operate fosters a pressure to quickly respond and act. Paradoxically, we also know that we often have to slow down to move faster.
We would love to share our experience of working with teams with you. Reach out for a conversation with myself and Regina Vogel about the change you’re trying to bring about in your organisation.