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Why organisational change is a bit like having an eating disorder

 In Business decisions, Insights, Management

Yesterday, two consultant friends Andy and Kate and I were having coffee overlooking the beach and discussing organisational change: how to create the strategy and then execute it.All of the ideas and strategies are about the psychology of change, because we are dealing with humans and not robots.

A number of sensible theories were put forward, about how it starts at the top and has to be modelled by the leaders. And even how it starts at the bottom and has to begin with the customer facing staff.

The sheer variety of theories, each of which sounded more sensible and “right”  than the last reminded of when I was studying anorexia during my Psychology degree.

I read no less than 7 different theories of anorexia, ranging from ones blaming brain chemicals, to ones relating it to the relationship with the parents, evolutionary programming gone wrong, even complications at birth. My point is that reading each one in isolation leaves you convinced that it’s right. We see the supporting information and don’t think too much about what might disprove it.

And theories of organisational change are like this too, we hear one, get a sudden flash of insight and grab onto it. Until we hear a different one and then our brain grabs onto that. Which is a problem, because there are elements of right and wrong in them all, and anorexia (and organisational change) are not as simple as we might hope.

When it comes to looking for solutions to executing change, I’m going to extend the eating analogy and look at dieting. Most of us know that losing weight requires a lot of effort in a number of areas (portion size, number of meals, food type, exercise, not sitting down as much) and there isn’t really a magic bullet. But every time a new diet comes out (Eat All Day Long: The abs diet for women!), or a new health food emerges (goji berries!) many of us rush to it hoping against hope that here it is the magic bullet after all!

Likewise with organisational change, we hear of a new technique (Blue Ocean Strategy! Lean Start Up!) and we get all excited that this time we’ve found the magic bullet for becoming Apple. Or Google. Or Virgin.

But we invariably discover that it isn’t that simple, if the organisation needs to go on a diet, it needs to have a full view of the theories, and understand that execution requires discipline and effort across a number of areas.

Linking back to my speciality, decision-making, we can see that deciding upon a strategy for change needs proper interrogation of the options. And research shows that executing the change needs to have everyone agreeing that the decision process was fair and they were listened to.

Posted by Rob Pyne