There is no denying that almost every council is facing change on a scale it hasn’t felt for some time.
The usual management approach to this is now well recognised. It starts by looking at how we currently operate, describing where we want to get to and then creating an implementation plan to get us there.
These are not bad or wrong steps. The issue is what they leave out.
To begin with how we currently operate is rarely wholly understood. Much of what makes any organisation function is the ‘tacit knowledge’ that is passed on from person to person and has arisen over history. Its the way we do things round here. Senior management can often be quite blind to this. ‘Chief Executive’s disease’ is prevalent, people only tell you what they think you need or ought to know. It is hard to know what is really going on.
Next, our work defines us, it is who we are. When you want to change our work you are changing us, our very identity. For that reason we are resistant. We don’t know if we want to be different and we are probably unsure that we can be, even if we try. Nothing in the change management model is talking to us about this. As a result we are anxious and afraid. If we keep doing what we have always done and do it quite well, it is really hard to fire us. Better to keep your head down.
And then what of the model for the future. ‘Managed Change’ is fine when the future model is known and understood. But we don’t know what councils will need to be in the future. We aren’t implementing a plan that has been done well elsewhere. Many of the high profile councils have failed to make the change or changes have been small scale and struggled on roll-out.
So we need to add a human dimension to our search for the future that is all about leadership. That means a much more serious intent on working with teams to help them adapt to find the ‘new normal’. People own what they create and as humans we love making new things.
Now is not the time to impose change models on our organisations. Now is the time to really work with staff to help them build their own story about how they are making the future. After all, they are the ones who understand how the present really works.
John Atkinson, independent adviser on leadership, strategy and creativity