Articles

Organisational Change Is Impossible Without People Change

June 27, 2022 - By Wendy Lambourne, Director, MA Industrial and Organisation Psychology, Registered Psychologist with SA Medical & Dental Council

The reason why so many organisational transformation initiatives fail to deliver on their promises is because they are too much about changing things and too little about changing people.

That things need to change for organisations to thrive or even survive is indisputable. New structures, operating models, technology, systems and processes can all make a positive difference. But organisations only really change when those who work in them change. And the people change that really matters is far more fundamental than a change in ability, resilience or adaptability. It is a change in intent or motive; a core shift from being here to “take” to being here to “give” by everyone in the organisation.

One has only to look at the difference between employees who consistently give more than they take from their opposite to know that organisations made up of “givers” will outperform ones made up of “takers” when it comes to organisational transformation.

Productive, driven, responsible, motivated, passionate, committed; they do what it takes, treat the company as their own, take initiative, seek to improve, stretch the boundaries of the job, strive to be the best they can be, go out of their way for others.

CONSISTENTLY GIVE MORE THAN THEY TAKE.

Do the bare minimum, lack energy and enthusiasm, unwilling, not prepared to help and support others, work to rule, sense of entitlement, victim mentality, do not make an effort, never satisfied with what they get, disengaged, put own interests first.

CONSISTENTLY TAKE MORE THAN THEY GIVE.

The problem however is that there are currently far more “takers” than “givers” at work. On average, and by their own admission, at all levels in an organisation the ratio of “givers” to “takers” is roughly 30:70. This holds true across different organisations, industries and countries.

The good news however is that the intent to “give” or to “take” is a choice. The shift in intent or motive is in the gift of any individual to make. For managers to change, the choice they need to make is to be in the relationship to “give” to their people rather than to “get” results out of them. The change for non-managerial employees is to elect to give precedence to serving the needs of a teammate or a customer rather than to meeting their own needs.

That the intent shift must first be made by management is obvious. If managers implore their employees to “give” when those employees feel taken from by those in charge, this must solicit cynicism and scepticism, if not lead to conflict.

But the real reason why leaders need to change first is because any organisation is nothing more or less than a reflection of those in charge. Employees are a mirror back to management of their own intent.

“Takers” beget “takers” and “givers” beget “givers”. Generous and courageous leaders unleash these qualities in their people. Conversely, when leaders are selfish and weak they cultivate these attributes in their people.

The cause and effect chain is therefore as follows: Leaders Transform ˃ People Transform ˃ Results Change. It cannot work any other way.

Ideally the shift from taking to giving begins at the very top of the organisation. When that is the case the transformation of leaders is accelerated. But each manager is ultimately accountable for their own individual choice. If they fail to make the shift they can lay the blame at no one’s door but their own.

In any event no organisation starts from zero. At every level of management there are “givers” and “takers”. Over time the number of managers with the intent to give increases until a critical mass is reached. Now this way of leading has become the norm.

In due course, as a result of this change, a spirit of generosity and courage is unleashed which is so embedded in the fabric of the organisation that it holds firm over time. The people in the organisation are irrevocably changed. The organisation has indeed transformed.

Wendy Lambourne
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