The learning around ‘change programmes’ is clear.
Have good leaders in place who can paint a picture of the future, make the benefits clear, and tell a story that carries everyone through the process.
Simple, and rational.
Then why, even when these conditions are in place, do change programmes not seem to ‘work’?
Change, and human beings, are just not this…. reasonable.
Dip into any of the major streams of 20th century psychotherapeutic thought, and a common theme is clear. We are all relational beings. We are not autonomous, rationally driven, units of thought and action.
Winnicott, for example, famously said there is ‘no such thing as a baby’….by which he meant that a young baby is always in a relational dance with a mother. (Or a primary carer).
And at work we are all in a relational dance – more mature and socialised – with our environment, our colleagues, our work, and our leaders.
Winnicott introduced a key concept in the development and changing of a young child – the transitional object. The cuddly toy, the blanket, the loved object, acts as a kind of half-way house between safe dependence and new external independence.
Organisational change charts an eerily similar course.
Teams are asked to leave what is familiar and move to the new.
This big ask is handled as a rational process.
Management points to benefits and longer-term gains, and employs ‘pain now, rewards later’ arguments.
But if we apply Winnicott’s thinking, rationality is of only marginal help.
The experimenting and trying on of new identities via transitional objects is the profoundly necessary part of the change process.
Are we ignoring an important need?
Where are the adult versions of traditional objects?
A small person would experience change that is managed via rationality and reasonableness – yet without the learning opportunity and support of transitional objects – as brutal.
It is possible to be too …reasonable.