When change is failing, don’t fall into a trap

OD consultants and other change professionals are commissioned at times by clients who are stuck and dither when facing a serious problem.

Two examples:

Take the merging 3 small companies into one and management insisting on “creating a new culture, based on the best parts of the 3 companies.” Management dithered on this issue for two years with the hope that things would somehow stabilize as the social fabric fell apart in political warfare.

Or, take the example of a company which needed  to really commit itself to transparency with its own staff to ensure credibility, yet focused on word-smithing, sweet-talking and sloganeering as the company employees become more and more “militant” and unionizes.

In such situations there is natural tendency of the consultant to push hard for decisiveness. And to make matters worse,  when  decisive action does not occur, the client may even blame the consultant for the slow pace of change!

Here is the crunch: If you push the client too hard because YOU want to succeed, then you may find yourself out on your ass. On the other hand if you accept the clients’ pace, you become part of the system.

This problem has no easy fix. For those of us who have learned to drive in heavy snow, it is helpful to remember how to free yourself from a snow bank….backwards and forwards, slowly, until you get the leverage to jolt forward.

And remember, ultimately it is the clients’ mess, not yours. If you feel that you are the one who is failing, your actions as a consultant will probably be less effective.

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5 thoughts on “When change is failing, don’t fall into a trap

  1. You write so clearly.

    In my world Allon.. what you say is not relevant. My process pushes the client. I control the push. I only work in labs of 2.5 days. And believe me the process pushes itself.

    As my mentor Dannenmiller oft said. When the shit hits the fan, do not be in the way.

    A person who finds themselves out of the contract on their ass has just been hit by the shit from the fan.

    I hope you are safe.

  2. I buy this wholeheartedly, Allon. In my experience, I have come to hold change as a life cycle. I call its first phase: “Status Quo” as it represents the state or condition we are in before any action to change is undertaken. The emotional state = Contentment or Confinement. The second phase, I call “Holding On”. A form of resistance, “holding on” is mainly a force for sameness and when we seek sameness, what we really need is certainty. This is the phase where your metaphor of driving in deep snow really applies simply because “holding on” is essential, not only because resistance is a mere form of feedback but also because there is no movement without resistance and resistance points to where you need to probe (the back and forth movement of freeing a car from a snow bank). I call the third life form “Confusion”: a state of high energy and confusion where re-constructiing begins. This is the life form where time is required for technical mastery and symbolic integration. The fourth life form of change, I call “Renewal”. It becomes the next “Status Quo”. The danger here is to drive the car, still in deep snow, at too high a pace and with a sense of cockiness and invulnerability.

    You’ve hit it home, Allon.


  3. Great blog Allon. I love the analogy of driving in the snow – backwards, forwards until you get the leverage. This is spot on in my experience. It can feel like you’re getting nowhere but it’s essential to keeping the contract and helping the client make the necessary shift eventually!

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