15th April 2016
For years I have been lucky enough to coach change in people. All the keys I share in this article are the outcome of this personal experience. You, the reader are always free to ignore the full article. However, and this is already the first key—if you do so, you will not be able to avoid some terrible consequences.
Key 1: Self-controlling change
Whoever you are, change is part of your own condition. This means reader that every day your nature faces plenty of changes that you must manage. Although we are living beings, often out of inertia we forget this. Even though we frequently fail to remember, all living beings need to adapt to their circumstances to transform it or to be transformed. You are change and you undergo changes. You can choose to manage them or not, of that I am utterly sure. In any case if you decide not manage change, expect change to end up managing you or deciding for you without a shadow of doubt.
Key 2: The two types of change in people
There are two types of change that can be explained really well in a simple oft-repeated metaphor that the scholar, Watzlawick, used to remind us: we’ve all had, at least once in our life, a nightmare in which something or someone is chasing us. So we start to walk fast. When we see that it is still after us, we start running. When we see that we still fail to break loose from whatever is chasing us, we start swimming. Then as we are in a dream where everything is possible, perhaps we notice ourselves taking off the ground and beginning to fly. Well, all of this that does not quite solve our predicament completely is a type 1 change, nothing significant. The type 2 change is significant and involves waking up.
Key 3: Nobody changes if they don’t want to
Often the change we think someone or something needs is perhaps not the one needed, but different one. But history repeats itself, learn from it. Let us take a look at just a brief chapter of French history. You might be Louis XVI and want to change the will of a few million people to impose yours. But history warns: you will be guillotined and the people will end up taking the Bastille. You can be Louis XVIII all over again and on two successive occasions want to impose change from others. But history warns, you will flee again or die alone in the attempt. You can then be Carlos X and want to once again impose change from others. But history warns: you will be overthrown again and if necessary the people even will place their trust in your cousin only to overthrow him too. And thus again and again, until you understand that can only impose type 1 changes on people but never type 2 changes.
If you want to achieve change in people, do not forget to ask them what kind of change they need. The scholar, Kotter, always talks about generating a sense of urgency within people so they can connect with their true need.
Key 4: Understand what people do not say
“We all need someone who understands what we do not say”—for several months this reflection, not clearly attributed to anyone in particular, has been circulating like wildfire throughout social networks. I bring it up today to explain that true change comes from probing and bringing to light what people do not say. Any process of significant change (in a person, a team or an organization) is based on first working on underlying assumptions. The respected psychotherapist, Albert Ellis (1975) called these kinds of thoughts “irrational beliefs”. These are thoughts that you have developed over the years about yourself, about others or about what is around you. If you want a significant change, you must fight what the great teachers Tversky and Kahneman (1974 and 1986), Nisbett and Wilson (1977) and Brewin (1996) have called automatic thoughts or schemas. However rational someone’s education has been, these silent assumptions underlie all forms of selection, testing and analysis of any real situation. Such beliefs determine what we are and how we experience reality.
If you intend to address the change in people without knowing or exploring rigorously what people do not say, it won’t be long before you see a door with an inscription in black letters overhead on the lintel saying, “All hope abandon, ye who enter here.” (Divine Comedy, Inferno, Canto III, sentence 9, by the poet Dante Alighieri). This welcome message will make you realize that you are entering Hell. If you see this portal, I recommend you not to cross it and to re-read the fourth key.
Key 5: Train relationship skills among people
To achieve significant changes (type 2), it is necessary to train people in relationship skills. It is something I found hard to learn but of which I have no doubts whatsoever. We do not know how to relate in a healthy way. We need tools, models and practices in effective communication that allow us not to hurt or harm others. I believe that all change must also be based on this.
Key 6: Devote time and space to connect with true meaning
Contrary to what most people believe, wisdom is not a naked old man with a beard who lives isolated up in the mountains. Although gaining wisdom is somewhat slow and arduous, once you have it, wisdom is practical. In a nutshell, it is about connecting with simplicity. Recently in this blog, my colleague Javier Fernandez Aguado shared something so simple and direct, and yet wise and ground-breaking:
“Stirring organizations meaningfully requires thought. It is not easy, as we live in a civilization with a disproportionate sense of urgency and a lack of silence. Moreover, only in an environment that sanctions withdrawal can genuinely valuable options be embraced.”
The big change in people management in organizations lies in understanding that transforming a complacent organization into a meaningful organization is necessary. To find this sense—I experience it daily—apart from internalizing the five previous keys, you also need to dedicate time and space to connect with your true meaning.