The knife edge of organisational change

I still haven't managed to cure myself of my habit of saying 'yes' instead of 'no'. There's lots of advice on how to say no which I seem unable to take, though I did manage it twice last week which felt as if I might be able to learn how.

In an alternative to saying no Adam Grant recently wrote a book called Give and Take which is all about the benefits and value of helping people. There's a compelling NY Times interview with him Is Giving the Secret to Getting Ahead? So maybe I can pat myself on the back for giving stuff rather than feeling overwhelmed by stuff resulting from my incapacity to say no.

Anyway this is what I tried to tell myself as I knuckled down over the weekend to meet the deadline of submitting the material for a one-day workshop I'm running in October. I looked at the now published, introductory paragraph I'd written months ago and was a bit shocked when I discovered I'd opened with the sentence 'Being on the knife edge of organisational change can be challenging'.

I wondered what that meant – my past self didn't seem to have left many clues for my current self to work on in a way that my future self could then deliver on the day. (Watch Dan Gilbert answering the question 'Why do we make decisions which our future selves so often regret?') The thought that I should have said no to the invitation to facilitate momentarily outweighed another thing I tell myself to do which is to give things a go.

As I reflected on how to learn to say no, what to give and take, how to make decisions that made sense in the future, I suddenly thought that these mirror the types of issues and dilemmas that challenge us in organisational design and development.

Take last week's news about Marks & Spencer, the UK retailer, cutting 500 staff from its head office and moving 400 others out of central London. Chief executive, Steve Rowe, said:

"M&S has to become a simpler and more effective organisation if we are to deliver our plans to recover and grow our business.
It is never easy to propose changes that impact on our people, but I believe that the proposals outlined today are absolutely necessary and will help us build a different type of M&S – one that can take bolder, pacier decisions, be more profitable and ultimately better serve our customers.
We remain committed to investing in store staffing and improving our customer experience and therefore our store colleagues are not affected by this proposal."

So here he is rather than saying 'yes' to the current organisational complexity he's saying 'no'. He's making future focused decisions now, and he's giving assurances to 'store colleagues' (albeit it in the context of a staff outrage at proposed pay cuts to offset the cost of the national living wage).

But this has left him on the knife edge of organisational change as his strategy is one in which success or failure are equally likely. I wonder if the colleagues and consultants who advised him feel that challenge?

I'm not in that 'knife edge' situation but as I thought about what I could have meant when I originally wrote the sentence I got some insights and ideas on the approach and content for the session, and learned quite a bit in the process as I researched the material. So maybe saying yes is ok and perhaps I should have faith that my future self will be able to cope with what my past self has initiated?

What does being on the knife edge of organisational change mean for you? Let me know.

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