Throw out the trash

Inspired by Neil Morrison’s recent post on why HR should hate change (, it reminded me of a true change story I heard a couple of weeks ago from someone from a large organisation.

This is the story from her persepctive…..

“We had this big change happen recently at work. The first we knew was when someone came to our office and told us we had half an hour to pack up all our things and move to the offices next door.

The blinds of the building were all closed, the access restricted. Nobody knew what was going on – apart from those inside of course.

Then a few weeks later it started.

People were called one by one into the building and then seen being escorted to their cars out the back door – you literally couldn’t make this stuff up!!

I was lucky, I survived. But others weren’t. We lost a third of our team that day. Including people who’d been on the inside track of the work. And including people in my team – my direct reports – which I knew nothing about until it happened.

What really rubbed salt in the wound was when the HR Director stood up to do a rallying speech after it had all been done and dusted. She praised and recognised the team who’d made it all happen. She did absolutely nothing – nothing! – to recognise the impact it had on everyone else. Not for those who’d left. Not for those who remained.”

The person I spoke to is looking for another job.


I was absolutely astounded that people could still think this was a great way to make a change happen and keep their teams engaged. That people could still think that spending a fortune on a ‘slash and burn’ of compromise agreements, and then spending another small fortune on sweeping up the mess left behind (they’re still, weeks later, trying to rebuild the team that was left in pieces) could be a good way to go.

Even if they thought it was a great approach, at least give people a reason why. Give some nugget of belief that those leading the change did have their heads screwed on at the time the decisions were being made.

But something that particularly bothers me with this kind of activity is the whole drama queen approach to ‘secret squirrel’ meetings, the ‘I’m more important than you because I know something you don’t know‘. Remind you of anywhere? Maybe the playground age 5?

It’s just not good enough. Because as soon as that mindset kicks in it becomes all about the people doing the change – they feel important and powerful, they will leave a ‘legacy’, they’ll have something big and juicy on their CV. And that causes them to stop thinking about others.

If you’re involved in change it’s possibly the single biggest responsibility you could possibly have. Made even bigger by changes that involve TUPEs or Redundancies.

Whatever’s going on, do it with care, treat people with dignity and respect, think about the whole thing from every angle. Consider those involved as customers and walk through their ‘customer journey’. Lead from the front and set that tone from the start.

And, ideally, have a really great reason why this change is important. Be really clear what the positive difference will be. Even if that positive reason is ‘this will stop us going out of business’.

But even better than all that, get creative, think of a completely different way to be successful without doing a ‘slash and burn’ change……because we all know change programmes don’t work, right? But that’s a post for another day.


Zebras at work


[Photo Credit]

Saturday was a big day for us – we went to see The Lion King at the Lyceum in London!  This was a delayed Christmas present that various relatives had contributed to and we were all very excited – the kids’ first normal train ride (i.e. not a steam-train-on-holiday ride), a trip to the theatre, a night in a premier inn – that always makes their day!

And, of course, The Lion King was fantastic!  The costumes were just incredible!  The music, the singing, the dancing….I could go on.  While we were watching, it got me thinking about a lecture I saw by Kim Cassidy at Nottingham Trent Business School a few weeks back, on the effectiveness of customer engagement strategies of UK retailers.  Buzz words in retail just now are ‘theatre’ and ‘experience’ – two things that traditional retailers are experimenting with to entice customers back onto the high street, and to make those expensive property portfolios valuable in the face of online shopping.

Kim went on to talk about the actual theatre – a simple leap to make, but one which I’d never considered before.  She talked about four different ways to present a dramatic piece – theatrical realism, political realism, surrealism and absurd theatre – and that everything in a production needs to work towards the chosen approach.  In doing that, you achieve ‘gestalt’ (whereby the whole is greater than the sum of the parts) and, if achieved successfully, the audience will become lost in the production, completely absorbed in whichever approach has been taken.

And so at The Lion King, I found myself wondering which of the four approaches they were using….I couldn’t (and still can’t) decide which one it was….. and in fact it doesn’t matter because whichever it was, it was a good choice!  And they did an incredible job of achieving gestalt.  But not quite…..I noticed this zebra.  One of the zebras just wasn’t getting her zebra on!  Her colleague zebra was phenomenal.  He had the kicking legs, the flicking head, the trot – all perfect.  He WAS a zebra!  Give him some grass and he’d have eaten it – that’s just how much in the zebra zone he was!  But this lady just wasn’t quite there.  She did an OK job but when on a stage of phenomenal people who were in their animal-zones her semi-zebra-ness stuck out like a sore thumb.

It got me thinking about our cultures and strategies at work.  How often do we achieve gestalt?  How often do we consider the inter-play of all the parts which go to make up the whole we’re trying to create.  How attuned are all those parts to what’s being created overall?  Has anyone painted a picture of what the end result will look and feel like? Does everyone know which ‘theatrical movement’ the organisation has chosen, and what their role is in that?

I’m not daft, I know you could never achieve gestalt perfection all the time, and there are bound to be people who are never going to be great zebras.  But shouldn’t we try?  Shouldn’t we try and create that image in people’s minds of what, after all their hard work in rehearsals, the on-stage performance will be like.  What it will be like if all the parts come together with the same ambition and determination, working perfectly together to deliver the best performance for their audience (they’re your customers by the way).

I’ve been part of such gestalt moments at work before and they’re amazing!  (Akin to the Hot Spots Movement  If we had more of these, more of the time, organisations would be phenomenal – both for their employees and their customers.

And, by the way, I’m not suggesting we need organisations full of carbon copy zebras (have you seen Madagascar with the herd of zebra all doing the water thing? – yeah, not that!).  Clearly organisational cloning is not the way to go!  We absolutely want the variety of zebras, elephants, giraffes, in fact, the whole animal kingdom, because each will bring their own strengths and attributes to enrich and create better results.

So why not go and get yourself a director’s chair and start creating!