No Victor but God

A few weeks ago, I reflected on a millennium of change in York. Last week, I travelled to the beautiful Andalusian city of Granada and found myself looking for clues to the preoccupations of our troubled world in the history that is embedded here. Granada is the site of the Alhambra; a reminder that multi-cultural Europe is nothing new (think also the Balkan countries) and that the tensions this introduces to society are not new either.

Andalusia was ruled for 8 centuries by Muslim sultans with roots in North Africa. The Christian kings of Spain, of course, were determined to expel the Muslim occupiers. Granada, the last stronghold, was finally surrendered to the Spanish king in 1492. At that time it was a prosperous city with important communities representing each of the Abrahamic religions. Today Granada is an exotic cocktail of Christian and Muslim heritage surrounded by olive groves, scorched mountains, and sharing its climate with Morocco. The handsome citizens sport features that perhaps point to marriages across the faith divide all those centuries ago.

The palaces of the Alhambra are largely intact and testament to the peace and tranquility which is at the heart of true Islam. Beautifully carved marble, gentle fountains, pomegranates and roses combine to transport the visitor into a world dedicated to the celebration of God and the beauty of creation even while the world outside lays siege.

The Koranic text that is exquisitely carved everywhere translates variously but most often as “There is no victor but God”; surely a reminder that our predilection for war is ultimately and always futile. Our tendency to turn suspicion and ignorance of other cultures into hate is blinding us to the opportunity for a more gentle, meditative world.

And the lesson for the Change Manager? Maybe that change washes over everything but beauty will not be easily swept away. The good in anything can be the backbone of  the new and the inspiration for progress.

Change is good.

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Childlike Enthusiasm

The post corporate life that I have been leading since Spring has many benefits. Today I took the afternoon off and hiked up a lovely valley near my home simply because it was too beautiful a day to spend in the office. Better still, earlier this week, I was able to take my  Grandson to his first day at nursery school and witness the pure excitement as he rushed to join his unmet classmates and a bunch of unfamiliar toys. Disappointingly, from a professional point of view, I was not called upon to articulate the benefits of this new regime, nor point out that lots of things will be just the same.

The young child’s enthusiasm for change and new horizons would be an excellent commodity for a Change Manager to have distilled and bottled; to be dispensed sparingly when the going gets tough. At what point in our young lives does this spirit get diluted by anxiety about a change in the status quo? Is it when we discover that new friends can sometimes be mean or the first time a much loved teacher leaves for a new school. Probably we as (grand) parents unwittingly transmit our anxieties.  Of course it is different for everyone but nearly all of us eventually catch that bug that is aversion to change.

So in the absence of a bottle of Essence de Petit Enfant, I will just have to enjoy the moment and try not to let my worries get in the way of a my grandchildrens’ early life adventures.

Change is Good.

House and Home

Moving home is one of those experiences in life along with losing a loved one, your first child, divorce and (name your own choice here), that is rated most traumatic, stressful and, yes, exciting too. Very few of us manage a life time without having to cope with a home move at least once. If ever a life event resembled a Change Management initiative, moving home is the one.

I raise this now because my Mother has just completed a successful move and downsizing after living in the same house for 40 years. The case for action had been strong for sometime but until recently she had toyed with the idea several times before always rejecting it. The difficulties presented seemed to outweigh the opportunities. The burden of running an, apparently idyllic, English country cottage and large garden had inevitably and progressively increased for Mum after the loss of her soul mate, my Father, 7 years ago. Even when this burden became intolerable, there was still much room for discussion about the right course of action and the hope that it would be better tomorrow.

The process of selling a house in England is not designed for the faint-hearted nor those with doubts about the change they are undertaking. Neither buyer nor seller is bound to the transaction until an exchange of contracts.  This occurs weeks or months after the buyer’s offer is accepted and maybe only a couple of days before closure and the move itself. Usually, the buy/sell transaction is just one of several in an inter-dependent chain. Weak links do what weak links do. Sleepless nights and interminable legal questionnaires can easily be converted into a loss of determination to see it through.

Then there is the little matter of emotional attachment to the status quo; the treasured memories of decades of life in the same home, the neighbours and nearby friends, the beauty of the garden on a late summer morning. These are only amplified when the packing starts. The photographs, letters and ornaments with sentimental value are rediscovered. There is inevitably that low point in the change curve when only the wilderness  ahead is visible. Life will surely never return to normal. Nowhere will ever seem like home again. Everything is changing and it does not feel good.

My Mother wisely engaged the help of Meirion, our home downsizing consultant (a.k.a. Change Manager) who brought detachment tempered with empathy and combined with pragmatism and experience. In this case, as so often, our Change Manager was critical to success.

The move itself is a moment of truth but no going back now. The new home, with familiar furniture quickly in position, takes shape with surprising speed. Suddenly the focus is on the future rather than the past. The moments of doubt are still there at stressful moments and when short of sleep but the flood tide of hope and optimism cannot be held back.

Change is good.

 

White Noise

A friend and former colleague providing me with a critique of my website design prior to its launch in May, made the, perhaps obvious, point that it is hard to be heard above the din that is the internet and social media. The trickle of visitors to my website and this blog confirms that. Investing in a GoogleAd campaign does not have to be expensive and has increased website traffic by 1000% in the first week. Can I expect this to result in new business leads or am I waiting for the statistical equivalent of a meteor strike extinction event? How should I put this in perspective? Is it worth the effort?

Communication is at the heart of any Change Management effort. It is frequently mentioned that telling it 7 or 9 times is necessary before a message is heard and internalised by any given audience. Hence those moments of truth we have learned to react to. Nevertheless, line managers often prefer a solitary, simple e-mail or (rather than “and”) a 10 minute agenda item at the staff town hall meeting. Perhaps they are hoping the change will just go unnoticed.

Telling it 7+ times implies that Change communications must use a range of channels and repeat messages even when some of the audience is already claiming complete familiarity with what is coming. Some of the channels may not provide instant payback but are still worth considering especially if, like a website, they can become a “go to” place for information and near real-time updates. The potential reach of the internet (or your company intranet) is impossible to beat.

So although my trickle of visitors has yet to make a splash, I will continue to invest time and a little money to promote the wider effort of growing my business.

Change is good. If you are listening.

Gold Fever

Great Britain is in the grip of the gold fever that is Rio 2016; the perfect antidote to Brexit in building a national sense of self-confidence in our ability to go it alone and punch above our weight. The often noted ability of Team GB to perform while sitting down (usually on expensive pieces of equipment or cosseted animals) is being demonstrated again. Money helps.

Sport is, of course, a good model for Change Management. Continuous improvement is achieved by preparation, action and review cycles repeated many times. Analysis of technique, strengths and weaknesses and those of competitors is used to fine tune performance. Measurement is used to identify improvement opportunities. Training is designed to deliver peak performance when it matters. Team commitment to common goals and willingness to fail are both critical success factors.

Fortunately, business improvement does not require the physical genes without which sporting success might be limited; rather the capacity and willingness to learn, take measured risks, outperform the competition and win. The same dedication and attention to detail that wins a gold medal at Rio 2016, is often negatively labelled as workaholism and micro-management when it is observed in the corporate world. Perhaps we should re-think that while still striving for work life balance and perspective.

Olympians think change is good. It seems to work.

Yorkshire Grit

A highlight of my week was a visit to York; my first as it happens. Learning more about the history of the city on one of those ubiquitous, red, hop-on hop-off buses, I was struck by the waves of change that York has experienced over the last millennium. In the context of the recent Brexit decision, the changes are in a different league. York has been home to Vikings, Romans, Saxons and Normans. The city has been a military stronghold, agricultural trading hub, centre of chocolate production and railways. Today it remains a seat of learning (something always stays the same), has a thriving service sector and, judging by the plethora of restaurants, appears rather affluent and content with itself.

Yorkshire Grit, the strength of character and tenacity, for which the people of the county are known, is then, perhaps, a result of successful change management over the  centuries.

The Change Manager should understand the history of the organisation he/she is working with. Here there will be clues as to the appetite for, acceptance of and adaptability to change. There may be cultural triggers and lessons learned that can be integrated into the Change Plan.

Back to York; perhaps my angry reaction to Brexit featured earlier and already tempered after a mere 6 weeks, will be made to seem rather extravagant; the changes it brings meriting just a footnote in the history of the city.

Change is good in the long run.

Dog Days

The Dog Days of summer are with us. Near silence has replaced the sound of nearby playground schoolchildren that normally drifts through my office window. The gym is populated only by empty nesters deferring their vacations until September. The weather is typical of English summers; mostly cloudy, breezy and intermittently wet. England are taking on Pakistan in the 3rd five day test match of the cricket season.

Dog Days are good for Change Managers. Time to consider what communication and leadership opportunities should be taken when a rejuvenated workforce returns, disruptive upcoming change temporarily put to back of mind. Time to reinforce the case for change and paint a positive picture of the future. The back to work messages are extra powerful when delivered before the fog of “too much to do” descends.

For the same reasons, September in the Northern Hemisphere is a good month for beginnings; be it mobilising a project team, implementing a critical component of a change programme or introducing a new organisation structure.

So time to put the final touches to the Back to Work Plan.

Change is good.

 

Course Correction

It has been 3 months since I left the corporate world and started my consultancy business. I was lucky to have a quick win in the form of some work for my former employer which is now coming to a successful end. Time then to take stock, revisit the start up plan and consider next steps.

Contacts I made in the early weeks have gone cold and may need to be reminded that I am hunting opportunities. Updating my communication plan and developing a new set of key messages is a priority; I am in business, I have successfully completed work as an independent consultant, I am easy to do business with, I can work confidently anywhere in the world.

Do I need to make some course corrections? The Plan, Action, Review cycle    is most effective when the review process captures lessons learned and identifies meaningful changes for the next cycle. Such corrections require an open mind especially when they represent a big shift in thinking. They may also be the source of inspiration and energy; critical in maintaining momentum out of the trough of the change curve.

An injection of new thinking and increased effort in planning for the next phase of my start up is called for. The potentially quiet period between assignments should not be an excuse to take a holiday; though I might do that too!

Change is good. Driving change is better.

 

Friendship

It has been another week of horrendous happenings in the world and further political surprises on the UK home front. Forgive me for focusing instead on my rather more positive, personal experiences of the last 7 days.

For my 60th birthday, my lovely family gifted me a week sailing my favourite charter yacht, Zara, out of Southampton and invited an eclectic group of friends made in several phases of my life from dinghy racing in the ’70s to more recent professional project management challenges.

Several of the friendships had been on hold for as much as 20 years and despite having much to catch up on, what bonded us back then bonded us still. Better still perhaps new friendships were born.

Friendship and comradeship are important elements for teams going through changes. They can provide the certainty and solid foundations upon which change can be more easily embraced; be it organisation change, new assignments, disbanding project teams or simply the sometimes disturbing realisation that age is creeping up on us.

So thanks to Mark (1970), Amar (1977), Neil (1985), Richard (1994) and André (2002) for helping to celebrate an important milestone.

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Change is easier when shared with friends.

 

Moments of Truth

The reactions of the British public, the markets and the European Union Leadership to Brexit are typical of those moments of truth that Change Managers must anticipate and plan to mitigate. Little such planning has been evident in this particular case study (if only it was just a case study).

The British public, of which I am part, is stunned whichever way it voted. It seems that the consequences of the decision were not fully appreciated by many. The markets have over-reacted as they mostly do. The leadership of the European Union is angry, suddenly threatened and prone to hardline statements.

Moment of truth reactions must be heavily discounted and allowed to play out. The dawning realisation that more is the same than changing will lead to calmer and more constructive reactions. At this point, the Change Manager must be ready with appropriate and timely interventions.

For the thoughts that follow, I am inspired by the speech of a good friend on his retirement from the European Commission this week. Some might say he is one of those faceless bureaucrats from which we Brits must be liberated. He argues that a clear and compelling vision is required to drive and sustain change. The calls for “healing” repeated in the UK over the last few days are meaningless. We need the vision and a plan to make Brexit work. Healing will follow as an outcome of competent Change Management. Without vision, the wounds will fester.

Moments of truth are inevitable in any change programme; like rogue waves that can only be ridden out. Visioning the future beyond the horizon is critical to success.

I still believe that change is good.