Category Archives: Leading Change

The Stories We Tell

I’ve not been blogging much of late due to a number of other priorities around marking, teaching prep, research writing and conference attendance. In amongst all of that I’ve had three lovely weeks off at the start of August. For many people the summer holidays are a time to catch up with some reading. For me this largely involves Julia Donaldson books. But recently I discovered a new favourite – Yertle the Turtle by Dr Seuss. Here is why it should be required reading in every Business School.

Yertle the Turtle is a story about a King Turtle, called Yertle, who becomes increasingly power hungry. Not satisfied with his status as King of the pond he requires his subjects to work harder in order to extend his realm. As his status rises so the burden of those below him also increases to the point where they are in great pain and hunger. Yet as Yertle continues to rise high into the clouds his link with those below him becomes ever weaker and ultimately his hubris leads to his demise. It is a fantastic story (available to purchase here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0007173148).

This is a children’s book. Like other children’s books the focus is on fair play and the importance of sharing. We constantly tell our children to play nice, to respect others, to always say please and thank-you. When do we think this should stop?

At some point our childhood learning is dismissed and replaced by mechanisms of management and governance that both enable and actively encourage individualised efforts and game playing. Team-work and shared goals are shunned and often the vision of ‘great man’ leadership is espoused. Even within education group-work for students is often avoided, especially assessed group-work, due to the problems associated with perceived ‘free-riders’. In research sole-authored academic papers are (at least in social sciences) considered superior to co-authored works. In many organisations promotion and reward criteria are often based on individual efforts and evidence of individual impact. Across corporations, and increasingly the public and Third Sectors, this mantra is reflected in the rise of CEO pay packets whilst at the same time tax avoidance and pay restraint for other employees are seen as common and accepted business practice.

Should Yertle be seen as the villain of the piece or someone to admire – ambitious, assertive and driven? Do we lose something by failing to recognise the value of sharing and team-work in business and management? Or should we tell our children different – to look after number one, that greed is good, to be ruthless in their negotiations and never trust anyone? Would that help them face the realities of life or, dare I say, improve their employability?

Should we teach our children different – or is it us who could do with a lesson?

For another example of the stories we tell see this episode of Peppa Pig in relation to debates around Brexit:

 

 

 

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Something positive

I’m just back from the Social Policy Association conference in Belfast. It was a great conference with lots of very engaging speakers discussing their latest research. Topics included:

  • Economic and domestic violence
  • Food poverty
  • Young people, precarity and security
  • Pension inequality
  • Taxation and austerity

 

There was also a special session organised on ‘the consequences of Brexit’.

 

Some of the highlights for me included a plenary session by Kathryn Edin discussing her new book – ‘$2 A Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America‘ and a presentation by Lorenza Antonucci about her new book – ‘Student Lives in Crisis: Deepening inequality in times of austerity‘.

 

These are two great books that I would thoroughly recommend. I was going to write some more about both – but you can just buy the books. What’s more, I was trying to come up with something positive to write about following the conference. But, as you can probably guess from some of the topics listed above, this isn’t easy.

 

There is much to worry about. And I don’t want to diminish any of that in any way. Global recession, European disintegration, war, terrorism, rising inequality. Yes, it’s all there. But this is not the 1930’s. My dad was born in the 1930’s – and as I sit in a warm, well lit library drinking fresh Americano and type this blog on my notebook using the free Wi-Fi available I’m made all too aware of that. Yes, I do have a privileged position and others aren’t nearly so fortunate. But this still is not the 1930’s. There’s much to feel positive about despite all the worrying news.

 

And what can be done with worry anyway? I’m reminded of the Serenity Prayer. I’m not a religious person but I think there is an important message in this – especially in difficult times such as these:

God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change,
the courage to change the things we can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

 

So let’s focus on the things we can change, embrace the opportunities that we have to make change happen, and celebrate the fact that we all can make a difference. Happy Monday!

 

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The Emotional Impact of Brexit

Change is an emotional process. Any change whether personal, organisational or indeed constitutional is likely to feed into our hopes, dreams, anxieties or fears. The extent to which change can be an emotional process is particularly apparent when we are not in control of the change process. So it is for over 48% of the UK population including 62% of the Scottish population after the vote to leave the EU last Thursday.

 

The nature of the emotional impact of change has been characterised by Kübler-Ross in her Grief Cycle which was originally established to reflect the nature of the grieving process. There have been many versions of the original Grief Cycle created since. One such version is listed below for reference:

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Source: https://www.pinterest.com/effard/grief-cycle-feedback-change-imposed/

 

Later research by many organisational behaviour and change management academics has linked this process to the emotional impact of organisational change. We can also see how, over the last few days, this Grief Cycle reflects many of the emotions that have been felt by the electorate and how this can help explain (admittedly to a small extent) the events that have happened since.

 

Denial:

This isn’t really happening. There can be another referendum (see here and here). Maybe Scotland can stop it from happening (see here). Maybe there should be another election which will stop it (see here).

 

Anger:

Why is this happening? It’s all the fault of old people. It’s all the fault of poor people. It’s all the fault of uneducated people. See here, here and here.

 

Bargaining:

Maybe I’ll emigrate to Canada / Australia / New Zealand / France. Maybe I’ll get an Irish passport (see here and here). Maybe we can delay it for two or three years (see here). If that’s what’s happening I’m going to resign (as with Prime Minister, Labour MP’s etc).

 

Depression:

There’s really nothing I can do.

 

Acceptance:

OK, it really is happening. There’s no point whining about it anymore – we’ve just got to get on with it.

 

Move on:

There may be opportunities here. Let’s work with others to make the most of things.

 

What next?

It is best not to make significant decisions immediately following and in response to any significant change event. Those who have remained fairly silent over the weekend have undoubtedly done the right thing in taking time to reflect and analyse the situation before making any major steps. It is important that the electorate and markets are given every possible reassurance and that they are supported through this emotional process. All the announcements so far from the UK Government have rightly been about stability and reassurance.

 

It is important to recognise that this is an emotional process. That’s not to say that all that has happened, and all that will happen, can be explained by the Grief Cycle. That would be far too simplistic. All I would argue is that it provides part of a wider picture of what is happening right now – and that it is an important part of the picture that should be recognised in moving forward.

 

What is needed now is strong but emotionally intelligent leadership. The transitions cannot be rushed. But the sooner that the electorate, and our elected representatives, accept the new reality and begin to move on the better.

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Leading Change in Public Services – Abstracts

In advance of the research colloquium on Friday 13 May I thought I would share the abstracts from our speakers. Further information on the event can be found here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/leading-change-in-public-services-tickets-24921644309

 

Dr Rory Shand and Frank Carr, “Plus ca Reform: Rapid change and rapid decay in Public Sector Management“.

Dr Bobby Mackie, “Talent Management in Scotland’s Public Services: Implications for Leadership Development“.

Dr Ian C Elliott, Helen Dawson & Prof Paul Joyce, “Leading Change in Public Services Through Redesigning Public Governance Institutions: The Role of Leadership“.

Prof Paul Cairney, “The Scottish Approach to Policy Making and Implications for Public Service Delivery“.

Peter Murphy, “A progress report on proposals for greater collaboration between the blue light emergency services and the involvement of Police and Crime Commissioners in the governance of Fire and Rescue Services in England“.

Prof Jari Stenvall, Dr Tony Kinder, Dr Ilpo Laitinen, & Dr Päivikki Kuoppakangas, “Dilemmas and unlearning – the case of big data“.

Prof William Webster, Prof Douglas Robertson & Charles Leleux, “SmartGov’ Smart Governance of Sustainable Cities: Citizen Engagement, ICTs and Sustainable Urban Development in the United Kingdom, The Netherlands, and Brazil“.

Dr David McGuire, “Sexual Orientation in the Public Sector: Issues of Inclusion and Identity in the Workplace“.

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Leading Change is Full of Nonsense

There is nothing constant except change

Be the change you want to see in the world

Take a look at yourself and make the change

So much of leading change is full of management-speak, lazy slogans and corporate bull$¬!£. As if an oxymoron is the most effective use of the English language to sum up an entire field of study.

This is why I was keen to have Steve Toft speak at our colloquium on Leading Change in Public Services. Steve writes the very influential blog FlipChartFairyTales which has as it’s strapline “Business Bullshit, Corporate Crap and other stuff from the World of Work”. I’m also delighted that Dave Watson, Head of Policy & Public Affairs at UNISON Scotland, will be speaking at our colloquium (his blog is here). Both are not shy when it comes to asking tough questions and both are adept in their use of evidence to support their analysis.

These two ‘industry-based’ speakers will be joined by a number of academic researchers who will be presenting their latest research on issues related to the topic of change in public services.

This critical academic debate is really needed. Sadly, I feel at times that analysis and evidence-based analysis are lacking when it comes to the subject of leading change. Just browse the titles of the many self-help management books that grace the shelves of every bland airport bookshop around the world. It would seem at times that there’s an entire industry of consultants and pracademics churning out clichés designed to inform ‘better’ management and self-actualisation. The titles could almost write themselves: 10 Easy Steps to Success; Think Positive; A Short Guide to Successful Change; How to Influence Change in 10 Seconds. If only it were that simple (NB: I made those titles up for illustrative purposes. Apologies to anyone who’s actually written a book with one of those titles).

The trouble is that organisational change requires people change. And people are complex, emotional, unpredictable, political, gendered, cultural beings. So any organisational change will as a result also be complex, emotional, unpredictable, political, gendered and cultural. Unless we recognise that we are likely to fail – is it any wonder that, according to John Kotter, more than 70% of change efforts fail?

Add to that mix the nature of public services (see here and here). What do I mean? Well, public services are often inherently complex and targeted at some of the most vulnerable groups in society. So there is a great risk, sometimes life-threatening, if things go wrong. Also, it’s public money so everyone has an opinion, everyone has a stake, and everyone is just waiting for something to go wrong. And of course Politicians also have an important role to play in our public services. Yet even in the more robust academic texts on leading change the distinctive nature of public service change tends to be overlooked.

It appears that anyone wanting to offer advice is best served by offering a simple model with an equally simplistic, yet catchy, acronym. This, it would seem, is what sells. Not complexity, not more questions, and certainly not theory (as we know academics don’t exist in the real world).

That’s not to say that there are excellent books out there on the subject of leading change in public services – there are actually quite a few (which I won’t list here for fear of forgetting someone). Equally the ‘generic’ organisational change texts are of course hugely valuable – to anyone. But I think there is still an important place for continued critical debate around leading change in public services. This is why I have organised this one day research colloquium: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/leading-change-in-public-services-tickets-24921644309

 

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Call for Abstracts – Leading Change in Public Services

As reported last week someone has finally claimed the second outstanding Lotto prize of £33m. That’s a lot of money! Certainly more than I can imagine. But what about £107m, £100m or £46m?

These are the amounts of money that Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Highland Councils respectively have to save over the next five years, two years and three years. That’s like winning the Lotto multiple times. Or you might say, it’s like waiting for a miracle to happen.

But in this case there is no waiting. Change must happen now. But how do we lead change in public service organisations? That is the topic of a research colloquium being held at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh on Friday 13 May 2016.

More than ever before, our public service organisations need evidence on how best to deliver sustainable change. Therefore we would like to invite abstracts from interested participants for presentation at this colloquium.

To contribute, please submit your abstract to events@qmu.ac.uk. Abstracts should be no more than 500 words (excluding references), written in English, single spaced, plain text and with no tables or figures.
All reasonable travel and accommodation costs will be covered for confirmed speakers. You should contact events@qmu.ac.uk prior to any booking in order to confirm costs.

The full Call for Abstracts is available here.

 

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