The one where it’s time to change

When the big hand is on the 12 and the little hand is on the 3….it’s 3 o’clock, right? Simple stuff and stuff we are taught when we are knee high to a grasshopper. Consider an alternative phrase ‘time flies when you’re having fun’ – who hasn’t said that? What they represent however are two different definitions of time – the first objective – time is a measured definite thing, where there are 60 minutes in an hour and 24 hours in a day (despite my consistent lobbying for 30 hour days at the weekend). The second (time flying) is subjective; where time is ‘defined in the mind of the actor’ – it’s not measured it’s defined by the individual who is experiencing it.

The first essay I was asked to write at uni was entitled “Discuss the meaning of time in organizational change” (the question was set, I certainly didn’t choose it!) and as ever with these things I started off thinking what a horrid title it was and ended up being fascinated with the idea of two different definitions of time….

So why write this now?

In the current climate (a phrase that is now highly valued in bullshit bingo) change is truly becoming a constant (you can see why I score so well in BB). A lot of conversation happens both on and offline about how to do it but consider this – if you are an enactor of change time is likely to be defined objectively to you. When enacting change there are structures, milestones and ‘things’ to deliver.

If, however, change is being enacted upon you time is not about compliance with employment legislation or delivery to budget, it is a very personal thing. How many people are having to leave teams or businesses, join new teams or businesses, change huge parts of their lives (where they live, childcare, how they travel etc)? At the moment, lots! Your neatly planned change is changing the reality of their day to day lives.

Personally, the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do was announce a restructure to a group of highly committed long serving employees. It was the first time I’d ever lead such a thing so was fairly anxious anyway. In the ensuing 1 to 1 meetings the reality of a subjective definition of time was brought home to me with a 54 year man (and he worked in a warehouse he was a blokey bloke) crying, asking the simple question “what am I going to tell my wife?”

There’s a line in the movie “Trains, Planes & Automobiles” where Steve Martin’s character rants to John Candy about his stories and ends along the lines of “they should have a point – it makes it far more interesting for the listener”. So what’s the point?

Next time you are planning a neatly executed change and whether you are using Lewin or Kotter or any other guru’s process just remember that to the person being changed, this is about their life, not about your Gantt chart. Their reality is not about a tick in the box, it’s however THEY define it…




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2 responses to “The one where it’s time to change

  1. Great post Rob – and close to my heart as I am closing a site just now with 100 + employees about to head into a depressed job market in an area with not many opportunties.

  2. Yeah….but…..if you have to do a lot of these things, then you also need to remember that you are not responsible for that person’s life, they are. Have humility, have honesty and have respect. However, remember that you cannot solve the world’s problems nor make everything right for everyone.

    Or to paraphrase, shit happens…..but how it happens can be managed.

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