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How to manage change in a newly purchased business

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When buying an established business it's inevitable that there will be changes within the organisation. 

However trying to manage these changes can actually make matter worse. Why? Because many of our ideas about change and leadership are outdated.

For example:

1) You can't implement the change until you have thought through every step and have every possible question answered

Not True. In many situations it is sufficient to have a sense of the end goal, or key question, along with some shared guiding principles about how the change will unfold. 

With these in place you can call on the collective intelligence of the organisation as it embarks on learning by doing.

This 'all-seeing' belief leads to exhaustive energy going into detailed forecasting and analysis of every possible impact - and this slows the whole process down. 

The belief that communication alone equals engagement means managers talk endlessly about how important the change is, yet no one knows what the change actually means for people

2) You can control communication within the organisation about change

Impossible! People constantly work to make sense of what is happening around them. By withholding information we convey something, usually distrust or secrecy. Plus, in this day and age there's no chance of being aware of everything that is being said about the change.

Instead focus on making sure you get to hear what sense is being made of what is going on so that you can contribute a different or corrective perspective.

3) To communicate about change is to engage people with the change

Not necessarily. People start to engage with the change when they start working out what it means for them. They become even more engaged when they are asked questions. "How can we implement this here?', 'What needs to be different for us to be able to…?' 

The belief that communication alone equals engagement means staff hear managers talking endlessly about how important the change is, yet no one seems to know what the change actually means for people. 

4) Planning makes things happen

Sadly no! Creating plans can be an extremely helpful activity but until people translate the plans into activity on the ground, the plans are just plans. 

This belief in 'plan as action' fuels a plethora of projects and roadmaps, tasks and measures and so on. A more energising alternative is to bring people together to explore 'the change' and generate ideas for action, and then to write documents that create a coherent account of the actions people are taking.

5) Change is always disliked and resisted

No. If this were true none of us would emerge from babyhood. Our life is a story of change and growth, of expansion and adaptation, of discovery and adjustment. 

It is not change itself that is the issue; it is the effect imposed change can have on things that are important to us. If we attend to enhancing these within the change process then there is a much greater chance that it will be experienced as life-enhancing growth like so many other changes in our lives.

So, what is the alternative? Many new approaches that focus on achieving collaborative transformation are emerging such as Appreciative Inquiry, Open Space and World Café. These approaches recognise organisational change as a collective effort, as a social process that can be inspiring and dynamic with leaps of understanding as well as being messy and confusing at times. They liberate the organisation to find productive ways forward together.


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