The following article was written as part of a submission for my Master of Science degree at The Da Vinci Institute. The question posed was that of a critical evaluation of the below statement, particularly around Change Management.
“If the new game of business is indeed like Alice-in-Wonderland croquet, then winning it requires faster action, more creative manoeuvring, more flexibility and closer partnerships with employees and customers than is typical within a traditional corporate bureaucracy. It requires more agile, limber managerial leaders, who can pursue opportunities without being bogged down by cumbersome structures or weighty procedures that impede action. Corporate giants, in short, must learn how to dance” (Adapted from Kanter, 1989:20).
To date this has been one of my favourite pieces of writing that I have produced for my degree, and yielded a grading of 100% for this particular question. My response to the question was as follows.
Although penned years ago, the above statement still rings true within business to this day. Change is an inevitability of business, which needs to be embraced in order to be managed. Organisations the world over are faced with rapidly advancing technology and means of distribution, and as such to remain stagnant is essentially committing a slow business suicide.
Within the software and content development environment, this is ever more true and pervasive. Technology advances at a staggering pace and must be followed closely. Within the organisation, my department – that of product development – has to be abreast of changes made to the base system that we develop our content on. This base system is out of our direct control when it comes to advancement of the technology. In turn, this creates a “burden of enhancement” to our products, whereby we have to prepare in advance for a new release from the vendor, and rapidly address changes before general market release, a process normally limited to a period of a week or two, if that.
The above example is but a singular challenge to a singular team. Change within the organisation as a whole needs to be seen as a part of day to day operations, the rule rather than exception thereof. Our services department receives daily, if not hourly changes to work schedules and requirements, while the product development team is faced with various improvements and feature requests over multiple products. These changes faced by the organisation may be small and incremental such as a change to a schedule, or much larger, such as the implementation of a new value and culture system. In all cases, this change is an integral part of the business, creating value within and without.
In order to effectively embrace this kind of constant flux, an organisation needs to learn to dance, as the initial statement proposes. The Mirriam-Webster dictionary defines dance as “to move your body in a way that goes with the rhythm and style of music that is being played” (Mirriam-Webster, n.d.). This definition is particularly effective in framing dancing in a business sense. Should the rhythm and style of business be interrupted or changed, the dance would need to change in order to remain in harmony with the music playing. In order to dance to the music, in this case the business environment, the dancer needs to be equipped to change as required.
As mentioned earlier, the product development team within the organisation is often bound by the enhancements added to our vendor’s products. This vendor has not traditionally had resellers perform the kind of development nor the scale of development that the organisation performs on their platform. Due to the relative newness of our development efforts, we are still not seen to be aligned with regards to releases. What this results in is the vendor’s product being changed without consultation or communication with the teams within our organisation, often resulting in features being removed or changed within the vendor’s product which in turn renders the development done within the product development team ineffective or unusable.
This dance challenge may be likened to a game of musical chairs, where the music stops or changes resulting in a mad scramble to catch up. Those who don’t catch up, end up out of the game. We at our organisation have learnt by experience that upon new releases from the vendor, this scramble will often be the case due to not receiving pre-release versions of the software for testing. In this instance, planning has become key. If one knows that the music is likely to stop while in mid-play, one can prepare for the scramble to the chairs.
It is this preparation put in place by management that can be the differentiator. Both management and operations teams are forward facing with a view that when a new release is made, should we not receive a pre-release testing version, we should expect to do rapid development on our software for compatibility. This agility and expectation has allowed us to match the cutting edge of the vendor’s products within a maximum of three weeks, identifying and pursuing the changes and opportunities posed by the vendor release.
While the above describes a successful dance within the organisation, it is important to note that there are many other dancers on the floor, each with their own choreography that needs to adapt to the others. As is evident from the internal example above, the period between the vendor’s release and our release presents a risk in business of incompatible products. To this end, the product development and service delivery teams are required to dance together in unison to embrace the change presented. The service delivery team in these instances is required to adapt to the changes in music, and withhold the vendor’s latest product from customers until our development has completed, while balancing the delivery to current customers.
The software development environment is one of constant, rapid change as one can see from the examples above. The technicalities within the environment, the dancers and the music are intense. While the delivery to the customer or the relationships externally may resemble a game of musical chairs, with the slowest adapters being left behind, the internal workings of the organisation should be seen as an intense Flamenco. This expressive form of dance is a highly technical dance (Madrid City Tours, 2013), focused on lightning-fast footwork (adaptation to change), complete precision (changing effectively), use of props such as castanets, shawls, and fans (changing appropriately), and communicating believably and non-verbally to musicians, the audience, and other performers (managing and communicating change) (Bedinghaus, n.d.).
These four change attributes of the Flamenco dancer, can be attributed directly to key elements of change management (Da Vinci Institue, 2015). The dancer displays leadership, both emotionally and on cues to the musicians and singers. He or she would manage the music and either adapt accordingly, or signal a change. This leadership leads into an effective form of stakeholder management by means of communication, as he or she is able to communicate from a slow build up to a crescendo of percussive movements and graceful displays. The build-up and passion leads the audience on a journey, fostering a build-up of commitment and buy-in of emotions and skills, ultimately playing out in a finely choreographed masterpiece of the change network around the dancer – musicians, singers, the audience and other dancers – embarking on a journey as one unit.
These attributes do not necessarily come naturally to the dancers, and need to be instilled by both experience, and knowledgeable leaders. Various interrelated skills are required for effective change management, including those of time management, the ability to network and build trust in those around you, coaching skills, communication skills and organisation skills (Chamberlain, 2010). These skills, while required by line-management, should also be expanded to any of the employees affected by the change. In the TED talk, How to start a movement (Sivers, 2010), it is asserted that the first follower is an under-rated form of leadership. If the organisation is to change successfully, the followers should also exhibit a form of leadership with the associated skills. Should someone buy-in as the first follower with the above skills, they can assist in nurturing a buy-in to the change by other, perhaps more reluctant staff members.
A knowledge of project management and change management can be seen to go hand-in-hand. A requirement of change is that all parties need to move forward together, with a singular purpose and direction (Thales, 2011). Without the definition of what needs to be achieved along with the associated milestones, direction would be very difficult to maintain. All change agents are required to work in unison, and this project management knowledge may be seen as the choreography needed to perform at its peak.
Attitudes, beliefs and behaviours are the final steps needed to complete the dance of change management. Clear attitudes of embracing change without fear, having a high emotional maturity in order to see the benefit of the change, and the ability to keep a level head in the face of change are required for successful implementation of change within the modern organisation. These are however not easy to achieve in many cases. I believe that these changes may be affected intrinsically by changing the behaviours and beliefs of individuals within the changing organisation. A belief that change is inevitable and beneficial towards the individual or organisation is needed, and in order to foster those beliefs a change in behaviour is required.
Anthony Robbins’ success cycle (Robbins, 1997) is a fantastic starting point in changing the beliefs of people within the organisation. It posits that four steps within a cycle are required. First, there is potential, which is based on ones beliefs and drives the next step; action. Should one believe that one’s potential is low, only minimal action will be taken. This directly correlates to minimal results, and therefore a belief that only minimal results are achievable, thus reinforcing the minimal level of potential. The key aspect in this cycle, is that results change belief. To this end, it is of utmost importance to display effective, meaningful results in order to change the belief to that of a positive, beneficial one. This in turn should increase the potential, allowing for greater action and improved results, thereby reinforcing the positive belief.
The importance of the behaviour of change being maintained is held in the results from the above cycle. Should the change not be maintained, belief in the change will falter, negatively affecting potential, actions and results in the change, as well as future changes after this fact. This maintenance of change can be achieved by mature behaviour with a belief in communication and stakeholder involvement throughout the change and thereafter.
With the above in mind it can be argued that neither Alice nor the Red Queen were correct in their leadership of their game of croquet (Alice in Wonderland, 1951). Alice failed to adapt or gain buy-in from those around her, resulting in frustration and an ineffective game, but having said that, the Red Queen ruled by fear, forcing changes and adaptation in the followers. While this may be effective in an autocracy, it would not be beneficial to the modern organisation. The human factor and the competitive nature of staff would almost certainly abandon the game in both cases, in search of a more favourable dance elsewhere.
Madrid City Tours, 2013. Madrid Flamenco Shows. [Online]
Available at: http://www.madridcitytours.com/flamenco-shows.html
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Mirriam-Webster, n.d. Dictionary. [Online]
Available at: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dance
[Accessed 01 June 2015].
Robbins, A., 1997. Unlimited Power. s.l.:Free Press.
Sivers, D., 2010. How to start a movement. [Online]
Available at: http://www.ted.com/talks/derek_sivers_how_to_start_a_movement
[Accessed 2 June 2015].
Thales, D. K., 2011. What are the key skills required for effective change management?. [Online]
Available at: http://www.hrzone.com/community-voice/blogs/dale-kirk-thales-training/what-are-the-key-skills-required-for-effective
[Accessed 2 June 2015].
Theron, F., 2014. España 2014. [Photography] (Montoya Spanish Dance Academy).