Choosing to fail?

I liked this bit of thought-provocation from Annette:

Change processes evoke anxiety – whether it’s at a personal or professional level – that’s one reason why the change industry is outsourced to consultants. Anxiety is difficult to talk about or deal with at a conscious level but its presence is felt everywhere in what may look like irrational behaviour and illogical decision making. You’d imagine that choosing a consultant to manage the change process and deliver on the strategic goals would be important? After all this is an important stage in the organisation’s development isn’t it? All well and good with our rational hats on. Unconsciously it may be more important to choose a consultant who can’t deliver, thereby protecting ourselves from the anxiety of change by blaming the consultant for not being good enough.

4 thoughts on “Choosing to fail?

  1. Graham Hill

    Hi Johnnie

    What a cynical post from Annette!

    I have been running large-scale change programmes for 20 years and can honestly say I have never seen such poor behaviour from management, nor such poor understanding from change consultants.

    I have seen many change programmes that produce unexpected, even undesirable results, but that is more to do with emergent behaviour in complex organisational systems than sabotaged consultant selection.

    Graham Hill

    Independent CRM Consultant

    Interim CRM Manager

  2. Johnnie Moore

    Graham: Annette’s arguing that such “sabotage” is going on unconsciously; her assertion is going to be difficult to prove for sure either way. You can say that unexpected results are a feature of complex systems; I’d argue that anxiety can be a pretty significant part of that complexity!

    I like the way Annette focusses on unspoken anxiety as a feature of change processes. Now in my experience, that anxiety can often come out in controlling behaviour that often has a big impact on success in meeting stated objectives.

    Outsourcing the work to a consultant could well be a good way to avoid anxiety. I do sometimes feel that’s the role I’m being invited to take on: deal with our anxiety without challenging us on it. Not always an easy task!

  3. Graham Hill

    Jo Johnnie

    As you say, difficult to prove without techniques like ZMET, that get at deeper underlying beliefs.

    I agree with the anxiety thing though. Clients are often very anxious about how change programmes will go, particularly when they haven’t gone well before.

    That places a great emphasis on understanding the client as an emotionally-driven individual, understanding the social dynamics of the client’s peer group and understanding the client’s organisation as a complex adaptive system.

    A tall order for most change consultants.

    Paradoxically, psychologists do not always make the best change managers, as they tend to focus more on the individual, at the expense of the group, the organisatiuon and their emergent behaviours.

    Graham Hill


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