Data Driven Change Management and Humans
Change can be exhausting. Objective change based on data is good. Change without taking humans into account is bad.
A cat does not like when its environment changes drastically. It might be stressed and start urinating on furniture to protest. Humans may not behave in the same way, but they have ways of showing discontent both directly and indirectly.
To transform an organization we need information to be able to act objectively. A company has a mixture of structured and unstructured data from which historic events up to now and how well we performed can be extracted. This is where most companies stop. Going further requires much more work.
The first step is to find out why we are where we are. Going here requires data-crunching, deduction, and discussions with domain experts. The results are reported to the management and we are done. The natural continuation is to find out what would happen if the historic trends would continue in the future and what to expect. Once we know all of this we need to find out what our next steps should be and decide on some action. An action is a mutation of the current state of affairs and requires a change, either small or big.
The change could involve minor adjustments which fit within existing processes (easy changes) or major changes which would disrupt existing daily patterns of the employees of the company. People are driven by their interests, and if their interests are harmed by change they would try to hold on to or increase their influence according to action theory. They could do so by (Learning to Change, Caluwé & Vermaak):
“…behaving unpredictably; by concealing information or distorting it; by imposing rules for the game, or, on the contrary, simply ignoring them; by forming coalitions; or by blackening somebody’s reputation.”
There are both formal and informal organizations where the latter is undocumented and constantly changing over time. To make people change (not just the formal organization), Caluwé & Vermaak discusses seven different ways to change things of which the last two are inappropriate to use in professional settings.
- Yellow: Change using power and processes to get everyone on the same wavelength.
- Blue: Rational change using blueprints with a given outcome (waterfall design).
- Red: Change using inducements and/or penalties.
- Green: Change by letting people grow through education and learning.
- White: Change through self-organization and evolution.
- Steel: Change using violence and repression.
- Silver: Change through circumstances (“if God wants”).
Which method (among the first five) to choose (or which to combine) depends on the company, the individuals within the company, and the culture. Data based change might often end up in the blue category, but depending on the conclusions made from the data and how much impact the change has on humans and company structures (both formal and informal), blue might not be the best choice. The conclusion is to never forget the humans involved because if the basic needs and relations of humans are disrupted major discontent might be the result. Pure rationality and objectivity do not always work out as expected.