Change and the apple cart
It’s fall here in New England – my favorite time of year.  It means carving pumpkins, amazing foliage, and apple picking.

Each year, the family goes out to hunt for apples.  We visit a local farm, and take one of their carts out into the orchard to find the best apples for pie and crisp.  With a little one about, invariably, the cart will get tipped over at least once during our voyage.

When the apple cart is tipped over, the reaction is pretty much the same each time:

1.  Mourn that the apple cart was tipped over.

2.  Right it.

3.  Put the apples back in it.

4.  Continue back down the path we were originally headed with those apples.

Change, by definition, disrupts the current flow of things.  Work activities, habits, goals and objectives are potentially upended and redefined to align with the change.  And change is good, right?

Considering the reaction when an apple cart has been tipped over, what might be a natural reaction to change?

1.  Mourn the way things were.

2.  Pick back up the same skills and tools and process that were already in use.

3.  Embrace them like there’s no tomorrow.

4.  Adjust course to head back to the previous destination instead of the new one.

It is natural to resist change.  As human beings, we are instinctively looking for homeostasis – a stable, relatively constant condition.  That said, we also have the ability to adapt to a wide range of conditions in order to achieve homeostasis.  So, when our conditions change, we have the ability to change with them and get back to a place of stability and constancy.

The challenge for change leaders is introducing change in a way that does not feel like it is completely disrupting someone’s apple cart.

Participative Decision Making

It goes by many names, but at its core Participative Decision Making is the notion that those involved in their own outcomes are more satisfied with them.  The uncertainty and fear associated with change is alleviated through the participative process.

Change leaders have many ways to involve team members in the decision making process.  They can bring them to the table during the initial idea phase or as core team members in the planning and execution of a change.  Ultimately, even if everyone on a team cannot be involved due to time constraints, knowing that one of their peers was involved in the decision making process can increase support by the rest of the team.

When I first started out affecting change in organizations (note the absence of the word leader here), I thought it was my responsibility to figure out what needed to be done, how to do it, and then create and execute a plan to implement the change.  While fundamentally I am accountable, over time I discovered that by involving the people who were expected to live in the changed environment, the transformation of the organization happened faster and the adoption rate was much quicker than when I tried to do it all myself and “push” it on the team.

Involve the team…

Not long ago, I was asked to form a new team and change the way our organization created business requirements for systems development projects.  The team was selected and informed of their new roles.  That initial change was definitely a disruption of many apple carts.

That said, every day after was an opportunity for everyone on the team to participate in the change process.  Our new tools and processes were not defined.  So the team defined them.  The job of the leadership team was to provide the bumpers – the framework for success – and clear the way ahead of any political or organizational issues.  The real work was done by the team.  They identified existing tools, consolidated them, piloted the changes, developed training, and communicated and rolled out improvements.  They know their jobs better than those of us they work for, so they were asked to figure out how to do their jobs better.  They weren’t told how, they were asked how.

…and Achieve Better Outcomes 

Eighty people can accomplish more than one.  Involving all eighty in every aspect of our transformation resulted in a much faster execution than anyone anticipated.  Activities that should have taken months took weeks, and those that should have taken weeks took days.  Instead of resisting change, we had volunteers across the organization and at times our leadership team had to work to keep up with them!

While all change is a disruption of sorts, how that change is considered, communicated, and implemented can mean the difference between resistance and adoption.  I would encourage all change leaders to embrace the notion of participative decision making as a way to involve their teams in the outcomes that affect them, increasing the speed, quality and adoption rate of the end result.