At the heart of a discussion about recognizing complexity and managing change in organizations is how to help people shift their behavior in positive ways – hopefully improving their own productivity and increasing the level of their own commitment as opposed to simply being compliant. This applies to everyone from line workers to CEO’s.
But achieving high levels of commitment from people is not always the simplest thing to accomplish. In fact, many otherwise successful business leaders wind up simply focusing much of their time and energy on a laundry list of activities around creating strategies and re-arranging structures because those activities tend to seem more tangible and easier to measure. While those tasks are certainly important within themselves, ignoring the human behavioral aspects of successful change management is a serious miscalculation for any business, whether family owned or not.
The good news is that family businesses are ahead of the game in many ways simply because of the old adage, “blood is thicker than water”: The commitment that comes naturally within families (with a few exceptions) makes for a business made up of committed individuals – of both family and non-family members. But that doesn’t mean that all family businesses are naturals at managing change effectively, particularly when that commitment translates into resistance to talk about difficult topics, like succession and death.
So, it comes back around to change in behavior as the primary key to successful organization change and leaders of even the most successful enterprises are not exempt. Business researchers and authors, Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner reinforce this concept as the first of their five identified practices of exemplary leaders in their book, The Leadership Challenge to “model the way”.
John Kotter puts this critical behavioral aspect of change management into perspective around his 8-step change model, (http://www.kotterinternational.com/our-principles/changesteps) “For change to be good, it’s got to be in a positive direction. Initial stages of transformation are usually positive, but the change effort gets perverted as it becomes successful and as executives become more arrogant. Change isn’t the issue; arrogance is. As some leaders start running into problems, in their arrogance they say, ‘No problem. We can handle all this. We can cut corners and make our own rules.’” (Kotter in Leadership Excellence at HR.com) It’s at this moment that commitment of most everyone else in the organization begins to fall apart, jeopardizing the success of the change.
Bottom line is that successful change isn’t primarily about structures and strategies, it’s about a permanent change in behavior from everyone in the organization.