»You must either make a tool out of the creature, or a man of him. You cannot make both.« (John Ruskin)
A lot of research has gone into the dynamics of Change projects and successful ways of providing support for the attainment of goals over the course of the last decades. Almost all research stresses that Change processes must be embedded in a concept that allows employees to understand why the change is happening at all and why at that time. Every change should thus be placed into a strategic context so that the individual steps make sense for the employee. Furthermore, debate must be provided for so that the change can be discussed in the form of dialogue among the different levels of the hierarchy. Dialogue means that both partners are ready to be impressed by the other side. That means that any planned change must afford room for changes to the change.
Reality is different, however. We receive specification sheets that essentially demand help in enforcing a given change, in eliminating potential resistance and furthermore ask to keep this as granular as possible. Conversations reveal that those in charge feel neither obliged nor able to provide a sensible overall frame for separate steps or to open up space for dialogue. That in itself is not even a mistake: there are, after all, plenty of manipulative communicative techniques available that make it possible to enforce change as long as a minor injury or two along the way are no object. However, it must not be forgotten that this may be a way to make employees compliant of sorts, but rarely the path to instigating motivation.
Compliance may be enough for businesses with simple and fixed processes. What about businesses that need great flexibility, entrepreneurial spirit and agility on almost all levels? What about organizations that live off their employees’ creativity and animation?
We have noticed that as change projects are conducted with this type of tooling approach, the management of the organizations at the same time speak of their need for entrepreneurial, agile, independent and responsible employees on all levels. That is an inherent contradiction. In the actual world of work, within the enforced projects and changes, employees are primarily viewed as a means to an end. It is certainly one of the most important tasks of a business to organize the division of labor in such a manner that it leads to economic success. In the reality of the workday, it is often forgotten that a business is always also a community of humans whose work gains pertinence from its meaning and who can only enact the traits of agile independent responsibility (which require space) in the context of a suitable and fair community.
Our altered and fast world of business is looking for the potential provided by humans who engage and for whom their performance in a business forms a purpose. This potential is lost as soon as employees and their performance are viewed and treated as a »tool«, a mere means to an end. It is only the former, human, employee who will raise the strength, the will and the joy to do what needs to be done in the jungle of modern organizations and their necessarily complex structures: to be agile, responsible, creative, assertive, able to face conflicts and cooperative.
This can only be achieved by an approach to Change management that goes beyond the mere TOOL oriented approach, which keeps forgetting lessons learned. Employees must be able to understand, make sense of and be involved in their context in order to be able to fulfill the demands placed upon them.
Returning to Ruskin: »You must either make a tool out of the creature, or a man of him [or women of her, indeed!]. You cannot make both.«