One of my Facebook friends had a perceptive post the other day about the Tony Bennett debacle: she noted that, whatever the merits or deficiencies of his “reforms,” he’d broken every rule she’d ever learned about fostering organizational change.
Coincidentally, last night I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in several months. She is retired now, but taught high school for over 40 years and worked with several education reform groups as well. She had a number of Tony Bennett stories–none flattering– but the one that struck me was this: she’d been at a teachers conference when Bennett was introduced to the assembly by a just-re-elected Mitch Daniels. Taking the stage, Bennett wasted no time on frivolous introductions–instead, he immediately launched into a recitation of all the things the people in that room were doing wrong, and all the changes they were going to have to make.
Shades of Steve Goldsmith!
Changing the way any organization works requires changing its culture, revising behaviors that have become habitual and comfortable. Most people fear change–they find it disorienting, and they understandably resent the implication that the reason changes are needed is because their performance has been inadequate. Good managers understand both the dimensions of the task and the need to connect with and reassure people who are being asked to do things differently.
If change is to occur, and persist (which is the meaningful measure), there absolutely has to be buy-in from the troops–from the people who need to make the changes happen. No lasting change has ever been made by an arrogant superior intent upon imposing his “expertise” on the rank and file.
Strange as it may seem, “Help me figure out how we can achieve our common goal” goes a lot farther than “Listen to me, you idiot, and I’ll explain what you’ve been doing wrong.”