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OCM Value Add Part 2 – Humans’ Desire to Retain Control

Recently, we set out on our annual task of painting the vision of organizational change management (OCM) for 2023. For those who have read our previous posts, you know that we believe in OCM’s value to accelerate and sustain the change created by business priorities.

With that premise in mind, we set out to, first, determine the year’s business priorities and then the changes to OCM that enable those priorities. A fairly straight forward process, or so we thought.

Somewhere in that process for 2023, it became obvious to us that while businesses were creating change in new areas, in OCM terms, we were using many of the same processes and tools that we had used before. While the businesses were changing, changes to OCM were not too dissimilar from the prior year, especially when OCM is tied to a specific project.

So, we decided to look into the future, i.e., beyond the next calendar year, and see if we could get a picture of the longer-term value of OCM. In doing so it became obvious that the changes needed to be tied to the way humans change. OCM aligning with the way humans change. Imagine that!

This created five challenges that govern our thinking. They are:

  1. Humans’ desire to retain control.
  2. Humans’ desire for credible leadership.
  3. Humans’ preference and success in learning by doing.
  4. Humans’ desire to understand the “bigger” picture.
  5. Humans’ desire to be a part of something that matters, something that makes a difference.

In this post we will look at the first challenge and its attributes.

Challenge #1 – Humans’ desire to retain control:

  • Humans need to feel they are in control, or feel they have as much control as they can get. It allows them to adapt to the changes more rapidly. Study after study indicates that even if you are sharing bad news, humans want to know what it is and how it impacts them.
  • Good leadership follows the mantra of “tell me what you know, tell me what you don’t know, and tell me when you will know more” because of this human need.
  • Employees would rather have more information vs. waiting until all the answers are available.
  • Meeting expectations is critical for moving humans forward.

How it works today:

  • Communicating expectations is primarily project based (vs. strategic) and comes from project managers, communication leads and are often delivered after the changes have been defined.
  • Managing expectations is not fully understood by leadership. The overwhelming desire is to wait to communicate until they have all the answers.

 What tomorrow will look like:

  • Communication needs to occur at both the strategic and tactical levels and at the same time. Strategic communication consistently sets the context for the tactical.
  • The need to set expectations is constant and includes what isn’t currently known but will be and when.
  • Managing expectations is seen as a process.
  • Leaders are actively involved and understand how the business strategy will impact the people.
  • Leaders understand how the various projects complement each other.
  • Leadership groups are aligned on the business strategy.

Near term actions you can take:

  • Ensure leaders understand their employees’ need for control and that communicating when they will know more is often as valuable as having the answers themselves.
  • Ensure leaders know, and practice, the mantra of telling employees what they know, what they don’t know, and when they’ll know more.
  • Ensure leadership understands their employees’ questions and concerns. For example, why are we doing this now? What happens if we don’t do it now? What is the impact on me? Will I have a job? Will I be trained? How does this impact other initiatives? What is the timing?
  • As a model for the future, share your organization’s plan for AI, the process and timing to advance its potential roles, when you will know and share more, and their expected involvement in the process.

The third blog in this series shines the spotlight on aligning OCM, human behavior, and the need for, and the development of, credible leadership to create trust in leaderships’ voice.

In the interim, we’d love to hear from you on what you think about the human behavior challenges facing the future of OCM.

Steve MacGill, Consultant Advisory Board Member, The CARA Group

Author Steve MacGill, Consultant Advisory Board Member, The CARA Group

Steve MacGill is an independent management consultant, advisor and freelance writer with over 25 years of experience in Organizational Change Management (OCM) and Leadership. He serves on CARA's Consulting Advisory Board and is a frequent contributor to our Blog on OCM-related topics such as change resiliency, building OCM competency, increasing OCM value, as well as the human side of change.

More posts by Steve MacGill, Consultant Advisory Board Member, The CARA Group