Why Do We Still Talk About Change Management In Clichés?

CHANGE MATTERSby Beth Banks Cohn, Columnist & Featured Contributor

[su_dropcap style=”flat”]I[/su_dropcap] WAS AT A CONFERENCE the other day and as I was waiting for the keynote speaker to begin, I started talking to the person sitting next to me. As often happens, the conversation turned to my favourite subject, change. And once it did, in the space of about three minutes, this individual used several clichés related to change management. It was actually quite funny, but it started me thinking.

What can we learn from the clichés we hear when we start talking about change? Maybe we need to have some good comebacks when we hear them being used around us. So here are a few of my thoughts about the phrases and clichés I hear most often.

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Change is the only constant.”

Honestly, when I hear this it takes all of my willpower to not roll my eyes. Yea, yea, yea – change is the only constant. I get it. But what does that mean? And that, my friends, is the key question. When I hear someone say that I say and then ask “That’s interesting, what do you mean by that?” And then I just listen. Because that statement means different things to different people. One time I learned that what that means to some people is that we need to be always evolving and they don’t believe there is any need to rest in between changes. Sometimes it means that ‘change’ is something we need to get used to, even if we never like it. Whatever it means to the speaker, it is important information that can help you understand the actions that accompany it. Don’t just assume you know what this means. Ask the question!

If you’re not riding the wave of change, you’ll find yourself underneath it.”

I guess this is supposed to conjure images of a surfer, skimming expertly atop the swell, while unsuspecting swimmers are pulled to their deaths by the undertow. But it’s good to remember that waves are transitory, and in fact can be generated in enclosed bodies of water that go nowhere. So – to continue the metaphor – you may be expending an awful lot of energy to ‘ride’ something that isn’t going to be there tomorrow anyway. A better strategy might be to become a stronger swimmer.

We need to see some quick wins in order to get buy-in.”

All I have to say about this one is: If you didn’t get buy in before you started, a few quick wins isn’t going to help you. This says to me that you haven’t helped anyone, senior managth-6ement or employees, understand the goals and rewards. If you think “quick wins” will get you that, they won’t. They’ll put you on a path you can’t sustain – the need to constantly show wins to keep people on your side. Take my advice, get buy-in first. I’ve talked about my ‘secret sauce’ around change – make sure it makes sense to everyone at all levels before you proceed. Quick wins are important to help everyone feel good about the changes and to continue to feel motivated. Don’t put the cart before the horse – buy-in first, quick wins afterwards.

Let’s not get trapped in the past.”

Yes, change is about moving forward. The problem is that “Let’s not get trapped in the past” can often become “Let’s throw out the baby with the bathwater, which is not productive. Examining your organizational history with an eye to keeping the good stuff and changing the bad is a more effective foundation for meaningful change.

We need to get all our ducks in a row.”

Groups or individuals who are not really interested in moving forward with a change often use this phrase as delaying tactic. There’s a big difference between “taking the time to get it right” and “putting the launch date off for another 6 weeks because Bob from accounting can’t be bothered to come to meetings and his team still hasn’t completed their deliverables.” Great change management sometimes requires decisive action – like telling Bob that whether his ducks are coming or not, everyone else is off to the pond.

This organization is already changing – every single day!”

This cliché is particularly dangerous, because it’s both completely true and completely false at the same time. And most often used to explain why there is no need for paying attention to the change needs of the organization. I agree, no organization is completely static – market conditions fluctuate, employees join and leave, clients buy more or less – so yes, the organization is changing on a day-to-day basis. But in many fundamental ways it’s not changing at all: Overall, the organization is probably still selling the same products, using the same computers, operating from a stable location, etc. Not all change is created equal. You may be able to change the brand of coffee in the staff room without too much upheaval, for example, but replacing the coffee with tea is likely to be significantly more problematic. And that’s just coffee, not a major process shift. What I find most important to about this phrase is that even if you are changing every day, major changes still need planning and attention in order to succeed.

Everyone is used to change because we change a lot .”

If you think your employees are used to change because you are constantly changing their world you are wrong. They are tired. They are bone tired. And they aren’t any better at change. But they have figured out that it doesn’t matter. Because you change so often they know nothing you mandate will be around for very long. This doesn’t bode well for the overall health of the business at the very least. Companies sincerely believe this and always have very specific reasons why their (constant) changes are always falling just a bit (sometimes more) short of the mark.[/message]

No doubt there will be a Part II to my list of clichés, because I know there are many. So I’m curious, what change management clichés get your eyes rolling?

Beth Banks Cohn
Beth Banks Cohnhttp://www.adrachangearchitects.com
BETH is dedicated to helping individuals and companies implement business changes that actually work. Beth believes in the ripple effect – that change handled well benefits everyone in an organization, over and over again. As a recognized expert in change as well as corporate culture, Beth consults domestically and internationally with a wide range of disciplines and businesses. Beth is the author of two books: ChangeSmart™: Implementing Change Without Lowering your Bottom Line and Taking the Leap: Managing Your Career in Turbulent Times…and Beyond (with Roz Usheroff).
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