changeMost CEOs recognise the need for transformation and innovation in the face of digital disruption.  At a recent presentation I gave to members of the CEO Institute in Brisbane, those present were clearly aware of the need for change. But most modern change management practices are likely to do their organisations more harm than good.

Instead of being reactive slaves to change, how do we become masters of change? How can a CEO turn their organisation into an industry disrupter and innovator rather than being disrupted by changes beyond their control?

McKinsey tells us that more than 70% of the time, change management initiatives are based on totally outdated beliefs and understanding about how individuals and organisations change. (“The Irrational side of change management” by Carolyn Aiken and Scott Keller, McKinsey Quarterly 2009)

The issues raised during the presentation affect most large organisations in Australia and their leadership.

Sheep Dip Approach to Change Management

The planned sheep dip approach to change, based on behaviour and competencies, is still dominant.  This is a change program (usually starting at the top – but often a layer below) that seeks to put several layers of organisational participants through a structured highly managed program of attitude or behaviour change.

The theory is that by putting people through a uniform training experience (usually detached from the business) there will be significant change.

This is sheer lunacy.

You can’t change someone else.  Think of a time when you decided to go on a diet, take up exercise, give up a bad habit.  Think how hard it was for you, even though you decided to do it, you were motivated – when you started- and you had control of many of the variables.  What makes any of us think, when it is so hard to change ourselves, that we have a ghost of chance of prescribing how someone else, let alone a whole organisation, should change?

Change needs to be based in reality

Planned change is based on the premise that we need to change from one steady state of being to another.  In today’s rapidly changing, globally networked, complex world this is just ridiculous.

Real change is linked to reality.  The reality of how the human brain actually works, reality of what is really happening in the world around us and the reality of strategic imperatives for the business.  Ken Wilber told us that we have to align what is happening inside the human consciousness (individually and collectively) with skills training and the strategic needs of the business.   Effective change demands that we do this from higher levels of thinking.

What a relief that Australian leaders are beginning to own up to this reality. Embrace it, voluntarily raise their consciousness and learn the skills and competencies necessary to lead change in line with ever changing economic, social, political and strategic needs.