Change Management Is Changing

Peter Buytaert
Traditional change management processes have mainly focussed on the rational aims and plans to implement change. These processes often fail to deal with resistance to change. If companies can identify and address mindsets at the outset they are four times more likely to succeed in organisational change.
TODAYS volatile uncertain complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world is changing faster than ever. VUCA markets demand that companies change business processes and continually rethink their business models to survive in their markets. Great change management processes result in shaping a better future than the competition. Change management is evolving to become a source of competitive advantage and business performance. So where do the changes in change management performance lie?
To answer this question we have explored the gap between the requirements of a change management project and the human reality that is faced with the requirements for change.
A McKinsey Global Survey of 2314 executives in 2010 led to the conclusion that companies that undertake transformational change have to succeed at the basics such as stretching targets and defining a clear structure. But they will be more successful by also focussing on their employees’ mindsets and behaviour. Leaders at companies starting a transformation should prioritise finding efficient and scalable ways to engage employees to make them more receptive to change.
In this article we outline our experience with what we call the Suited Monk change model. The Suited Monk started with an original idea by Mr Raf Adams to think about how we can develop a life and career that makes sense of the motivations and values of our internal world (our ‘Monk’) with the behavioural and ego demands of our public life and persona (our ‘Suit’). When our Monk is not aligned with our Suit an inward gap of stress is created. We apply this individual model the corporate context to help change leaders truly engage with employees and to help overcome the mindsets and behaviours that are resistant to change.
Traditional change management processes have largely focussed on the rational aims and plans to implement change. These processes have often failed to deal with the resistance created by change management gaps between employee mindset motivation organisational rationale and purpose for change. The McKinsey research indicates that if companies can identify and address mindsets at the outset they are four times more likely to succeed in organisational change than companies that overlook this stage.
In our work with change leaders in global companies we differentiate the Suit and Monk components of change. The Suit components are rational and technical such as deadlines project scope and targets. The Monk components are non-rational such as the need for internal motivation of employees to find common ground between individual and corporate purpose and to truly engage everyone in the process.
Change questions that address the Monk are: What can you learn? How do you belong? What is the greater purpose? Change questions that address the Suit are: What are the target figures? What is the result for the company? What are the details and plans of the change? What is the external pressure?
The rational questions need to be addressed in an emotionally intelligent way and by linking them to the needs of the inner Monk. This emotional intelligence (EQ) linkage is spelt out by McKinsey Quarterly authors Mr Nate Boaz and Ms Erica Ariel Fox as: “Linking strategic
and systemic intervention to genuine self-discovery and self-development by leaders is a far better path to embracing the vision of the organisation and to realising its business goals.” For example here is a Suit change message—this change is vital to add 10 per cent earnings before interest taxes depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) to the bottom-line as we face declining margin and so this is what is going to happen.
Here is a Monk alternative—this change will not only add a healthy 10 per cent EBITDA to the bottom-line. We want to discuss our thoughts with you so we can aim to develop new leadership skills in times of adversity and provide better support and opportunity to those of you in research and development (R&D).
We advocate four ‘must-haves’ for change to occur—organisational vision capacity for change pressure for change and actions for change. But applying these through a Suit-led change process alone is likely to provoke resistance. Resistance emerges from a failure to tackle the non-rational components of change that live in the change agents and the organisation at large. A gap is created between the organisation’s rational change management processes and the engagement of a person’s inner world in facing change.
We admire General Electric’s (GE) change acceleration process (CAP) which includes a strategy and tools for change. But the chief aim of CAP is to influence the actions and commitment of people by focussing on cultural acceptance within the organisation. We found that the starting point for change occurs by creating an appropriate level of awareness for the need for change and the way in which change is perceived at a personal and emotional level. Resistance to change often arises when individuals have insufficient awareness of either their own needs or the organisation’s needs. The result of this lack of awareness gives rise to what we call ‘GAP Creators’.
The circles in Figure 1 below depict our external and internal worlds in facing change. They show the gap between the external world of the change management project and the internal world of the person (Monk). There is no alignment between the rational processes and demands for change and the Monk because of GAP Creators.

                                        Figure 1: GAP Creators
GAP Creators are the presenting reasons why change is necessary. At their strongest they are expressed in determination by individuals to overtly or covertly prevent changes from happening. This reaction is the individual’s Suit reacting towards the external world—the change project. The Suit adopts a rejectionist mindset: “This is not going to happen”. By contrast the Monk enables people to achieve a mindset of acceptance.
Acceptance is the natural state of the Monk but it needs to be nurtured and encouraged. It does not mean giving up or becoming passive it means recognising the circumstance without resisting it or attributing additional meaning to it.
In our workshops we teach the law of acceptance and the law of rejection to help raise self-awareness. The law of rejection simply states that whenever we reject or resist our current situation we experience a greater personal struggle combined with feelings of stress anger and frustration. Sometimes the reasons that are deployed against change result from an anxiety about the implications of change and the potential threat to their role or status (their personal Suit).
These are issues that need to be addressed at an individual and team level. In dialogue employees should be encouraged to voice the issues that cause them to reject change and the change leader needs to demonstrate that employee concerns are addressed. The change leader should also raise communal awareness about the personal benefits of the law of acceptance.
The law of acceptance enables an individual to embrace external changes without getting frustrated or emotionally disturbed by it. Acceptance allows people to be neutral towards change and observe change without labelling it as good or bad. By practicing acceptance
employees have an opportunity to explore change because acceptance suspends judgment.
While practicing acceptance the first resistance blocks of denial and frustration are addressed and employees begin to explore the possibilities of change. Even when you accept change you do not necessarily have to agree with the change but the change itself is detached from adverse feelings.
During his tenure as chief executive officer (CEO) at HCL Technologies Limited the Indian global information technology (IT) services company Mr Vineet Nayar began a journey of transformation that has made it one of the fastest-growing and profitable global IT services
companies worldwide. Mr Nayar became famous for creating reverse accountability at HCL. The transformation was successful because he put Employees First Customers Second (the title of his book). Managers became accountable to team members so that they had everything they needed to function at their peak. This is a Monk-style focus for change. By focussing on the internal motivation talent and vision of employees first change was able to flow.
In our work with organisations undertaking leadership and cultural transformations we found that the best way to achieve an organisation’s aspirations is to encourage teams to be receptive to change by focussing on the Monk instead of applying rational tools simply to drive change through the organisation. We equip change leaders with rational tools and processes but we also help them to deal with non-rational change components that are sources of resistance and GAP Creators. From our experience these pockets of resistance come down to four Monk-based needs:


  1. Insufficient awareness about the pressure scope and purpose of change. Change leaders themselves are still exploring and can lack the awareness to judge their own responses
  2. Perceptions by the organisation that the process of execution is not fair as some options appear to not have been explored or explanations for alternatives are lacking
  3. Insufficient capacity development to deal with the change and
  4. Insufficient motivation levels for change to occur.

To deal with the GAP Creators and to close the gap we suggest five strategies for change leaders (the GAP Closers):

  1. Maximise awareness amongst staff about the external demands for the change project
  2. Listen to the Monks of people across the organisation about how they perceive the change
  3. Communicate from the Monk not the Suit to motivate. Harvard Business School professor Ms Rosabeth Moss Kanter has identified the three main motivators—meaning (for the individual) mastery (personal development) and membership (belonging)
  4. Ensure that the change process is fair and that trust is built step-by-step through what we call ‘Monk-to-Monk’ communication—allowing colleagues to express their true feelings without fear of ‘political’ backlash and
  5. Ensure that there is space to practice change. This means giving time resources and freedom for people to fail.

These strategies need to be given sufficient time to close the gaps tha~t exist between Monks and Suits across the organisation. The change leader should then build momentum through a thoughtful communication and action plan that incorporates four gap-closing drivers: awareness fairness space and motivation. This is a continuous process as gaps will reappear without regular maintenance.Figure 2 shows that the gap is closed by expanding the role of the Monk in the process and aligning the rational change tools and processes required by the Suit accordingly.



Dr Mike Thompson is Visiting Professor of Management Practice at the China Europe International Business School Shanghai. He is co-founder of Good Leaders Online the talent network and recruitment portal and director of GoodBrand the sustainable enterprise consultancy.

Mr Peter Buytaert is chief responsibility officer of Good Leaders Online (GLO) a talent network and recruitment portal. He was formerly President Asia at Agfa Graphics a consultant to start-ups and private equity as well as Chairman of Bencham (Benelux Chamber of commerce).


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