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  • Writer's pictureNick Smith

L is for Linux, Leaders, & Language

Open-source software and Linux (don't panic, this is not an operating systems internals blog) have played key roles in technology development over the past 25 - 30 years. And normally, like most of us working in Business Change, I'd pay little attention to either, I guess. But this week I came across a Gartner 2019 research piece that drew on open-source software principles in arguing for how change management should be changing. The Gartner analysts' key points were:

  • Top-down management of change isn't working, with change initiatives failing or moving too slowly - and leaders most often blaming their workforces for these failures

  • An 'open-source' approach to change (clear governance and guidelines, but changes led and effected by a wide population) delivers more rapid change and higher levels of change success, engagement, and retention.

Gartner highlights three key elements of a successful 'open-source' approach: the co-creation of change strategy (not just employee feedback); shifting change implementation planning to employees; and communication that's built for conversation, not for telling.

This makes sense. A 'the people are the problem' mentality inevitably manifests itself, and undermines the relationship trust needed for change to be adopted and embedded rapidly. Those on the the front line know what they actually do now - and without meaningful involvement from them any impact assessment is likely to prove flawed - and therefore any change adoption planning. And, if we're not in ongoing dialogue with those impacted by change, we're much less likely to be able fine tune change approaches and final state as implementation proceeds.

This, of course, has implications for business and change leaders (there may be no distinction). The charismatic, decisive, strategist, 'hero', leader may come up short in effecting change as they charge over the hill in front of their people. The ivory tower command and control leader certainly will. In some walks of life, there's more talk of the leader as a 'reflective practitioner' in the midst of the people they lead - listening, facilitating, and working to influence rather than direct. I think it would be naive to suggest that such a leadership approach alone would be sufficiently effective in leading rapid change: rapid decisions are needed, not least where there is no consensus in existence or able to be built rapidly. Directions have to be set, and forward journeys modelled. But, have we underestimated the importance of leaders who are genuinely among their people; empowering them in decision-making not just afterwards; giving authority with accountability? Can we genuinely say as leaders we're harnessing the potential that we claim our people have (and in reality do have)?

We think, too, that there are really important implications for the language we use around change. 'Managing change', 'delivering (or deploying) change', even perhaps 'implementing change' - these are all phrases that at the very least point to a small cadre of specialists, managers, leaders running the change show - taking decisions for and about those who will be impacted by change, for whom (perhaps to whom, rarely with whom) change is being effected. It's why, in Epion, we try and talk about 'enabling change' rather than managing it; why we talk about 'empowering those impacted by change, so they can embrace and embed it'. Language matters. It shows what we're really feeling.

Gartner's research is copyright Gartner, Inc, and Gartner is a registered trademark of Gartner, Inc.

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