Friday, 14 October 2016

What Moving 6 Cubic Meters of Gravel Can Teach Us About Change

We’re doing some landscaping. It’s not a huge amount but it’s enough. Landscaping = change and just like any change, it’s exciting and a little scary all at once. What if we’re being too ambitious? What if we don't know what to do? What if, in the end, it doesn’t meet our expectations?

Regardless, we made a start and had 6 cubic meters of gravel dumped in our driveway. Looking at that gravel and what we had planned got me thinking about how organisations approach change and why they’re often disappointed with the results.

Here then, are 4 lessons that came to mind as I helped shovel, barrow and spread that gravel around…

  • Why – this change needs to happen or is happening for a reason. What is it? The first part of our landscaping is to create a specific area for the recycle bins. There are some other reasons of course but the main driver is to get the recycling in a central point and away from everyday view. Everything we’re doing from preparation to gravel delivery to positioning of plants, paths, and bins, has been done with that in mind. It’s looking great!
Lesson: If the reason for the change is not clear the path to achieving it will be muddled and the result will not meet expectations.
  • It hurts – the change curve is real and everyone experiences it. Understanding the change curve helps us predict how others will react so we can help them make their own personal transitions. Reactions are often emotional and behavioural but, as with moving gravel, they can also be physical. As I shoveled, barrowed and spread that gravel there was anxiety (can I cope?), happiness (it’s going to look great!), pain (my back hurts!), fear (will I ever finish!?), gradual acceptance (the pile’s getting smaller), and finally moving forward (that looks great!).
Lesson: The time each person, team or department, and the organisation as a whole, take to go through each stage of the change curve is different. The need for people to work through what’s happening must be balanced with the organisations need to make the change happen.
  • Make a start – our pile of gravel wasn’t going to move itself and no amount of visualisation or talking would change that. If we wanted it done, we had to get on with it. Companies are changing things every day they just don’t register these small shifts as change. ‘Change projects’ conjure up negative images so break things down and make a start. Looking at the huge pile of gravel was daunting but little by little the pile reduced and our new service area took shape.
Lesson: When you know the change that needs to be made it’s not difficult to identify the parts that will lead to it. The change will evolve over time so rather than trying to plan the entire thing, pick a part that makes sense and start.
  • Rate of change – there are times when the volume of change is just too much; the organisation reaches saturation and absorbing more is impossible. The change activities lose momentum and people lose interest and willingness to participate. We quickly found we could shift the gravel pile faster if we reduced the number of shovel loads in the barrow. It was lighter so more efficient and set a pace that worked for both of us.
Lesson: Give the business time to absorb change. Monitor what the business can cope with then set a pace that enables change to stabilise while the next change is taking shape. As things normalise review the pace.

These 4 lessons are universal, whether you’re landscaping your garden or embarking on an initiative that will change the business. Change is complex and no two change initiatives are alike. Know why you're doing it, keep your eyes wide open, be prepared to make adjustments along the way, and make a start.

If you’ve got some lessons you’d like to add to the list, I’d love to hear them. Just add them as a comment below.

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