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Most Change Programmes Fail


The business environment is changing at a dizzying pace, and the need to keep up with these changes in order to retain staff and remain competitive is paramount. Great. No argument there. The problem is that most efforts to initiate change within organisations fail - miserably, horribly and sometimes even dramatically.


Now I hear you ask with tears in your eyes,“Why is that, and what can a business leader do to give change a better chance of success?” Well here follows one answer I’ve found that is both interesting and practical.


Spoiler Alert


The philosopher and psychologist Will McWhinney says that any change effort triggers conflict, and that the conflict, in most cases, eventually destroys the change effort. The effort ultimately leaves the situation more messy and complex than it was before.

Why does this happen?


For a start, people see the world differently. I know – shock-horror - right? No surprises there perhaps, but what is surprising

is that we all differ on a level that is far deeper than just race, culture, language and gender - we all have different ‘structures

of interpretation’.


McWhinney says that people look at life from four dominant positions: unitary, sensory, social or mythic. And here’s the point - once you understand and appreciate these different standpoints, it becomes easier to design levels of narrative that effectively and persuasively talk to each worldview. 

Four Ways to Win Hearts and Change Minds


The person with the ‘unitary’ worldview sees the world in terms of rules, adherence and policies. To engage these people requires models, policies and ‘laws’ they can follow.


For the ‘sensory’ person “seeing-is-believing” and their worldview is dominated by demonstrable evidence. They need ‘objective’ data that ‘proves’ the benefits of the change.


Those with a ‘social’ worldview are concerned by the feelings of others. Morality and ethics are paramount, and fairness is a core component of any communication to them.


The ‘mythic’ worldview is one where stories and symbols are the driving forces. These people thrive on the dream of a better world and need to their imaginations engaged.


Give Change a Better Chance


As a leader looking for sustainable change, the next challenge is to find a way to accommodate all of these worldviews and develop mutually supporting narratives within a unified messaging construct. Easier said than done, [and it wasn’t all that easy to say] but once achieved, the results can be startling.


Look Around You


A good place to start is at the briefing stage. Throw a few colleagues together and ask what kind of messaging they believe the change programme needs to communicate. Chances are, if you listen carefully and do a little coaxing, you’ll find yourself wallowing in a managerial microcosm of your four-dimensional employee universe. Welcome to my world!


I hope this has been interesting and illuminating, and remember that whatever worldview you cling to, we at Actuate are always happy to help provide some unifying perspectives on your next change challenge.

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