As I watched my kids compete in the First Lego League tournament this weekend, I was struck by the skilled efforts of their coaches, who created an environment where all the kids could contribute ideas, design programs to complete missions, and innovate. Their successes, failures, and learning are all fully owned by the participating kids. The adult coaches offer encouragement and serve as guides. If only more of our change efforts did such a great job at involving and giving agency to those most impacted by change.

This article by Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini, published in Insights and Publications of McKinsey & Company (October, 2014), points to many concepts I wholeheartedly agree with regarding change work and gives us suggestions for how to improve the efficacy of change efforts.

They write,

“When change is imposed from above, with both ends and means prescribed, it’s rarely embraced. Traditional change programs fail to harness the discretionary creativity and energy of employees and often generate cynicism and resistance. Senior executives talk about the need to get buy-in, but genuine buy-in is the product of involvement, not slick packaging and communication. To be embraced, a change effort must be socially constructed in a process that gives everyone the right to set priorities, diagnose barriers, and generate options. Despite assertions to the contrary, people aren’t against change—they are against royal edicts.”

They then describe what it takes to build a change platform versus a change program. They conclude by writing,

“Guiding a process of socially constructed change is neither quick nor easy—but it is possible and effective. The biggest obstacles to creating robust change platforms aren’t technical. The challenge lies in shifting the role of the executive from change agent in chief to change enabler in chief. This means devoting leadership attention to the creation of an environment where deep, proactive change can happen anywhere—and at any time—and inspiring the entire organization to swarm the most pressing issues.”

Much of my OD and facilitation work is about helping clients design processes which will allow their stakeholders to make meaningful and significant contributions to change and planning efforts.  I would love to help your organization to think about how to do this as well. Enjoy the rest of the article.