Q: How do you view change today? Why is change important?
B.A.: Change is the “burning platform” or hot topic for companies today. Companies understand that they must change now and they can’t focus simply on change management but they must also confront the speed of change.
Look, for example, at Ray Kurtzweil, Director of R&D at Google, “"The reality of information technology is it progresses exponentially," he told the Financial Times."30 steps linearly gets you to 30. One, two, three, four, step 30 you're at 30. With exponential growth, it's one, two, four, eight. Step 30, you're at a billion.”
Everyone is concerned with the increasing complexity of the world and globalization, yet, I feel that it is change and, in particular, the speed of change and the mechanisms behind how people must change and quickly, that is the focus of my work with the Executive MBA’s as well as with companies.
All different types of companies are wondering how to change because the old plans and models can no longer be used.
A visionary study that still holds true today supports my ideas is a 1995 paper by Kotter “Leading Change: Why Efforts Fail”
Q: You seem skeptical of training and communication. How do these factor into change?
B.A.: The pressing question surrounding change is whether or not people believe in the process. For example, I suggest that a roundtable discussion with customers for sales people is likely to be far more effective in improving organizational performance and creating positive change than traditional training methods used in the past. And this is because it moves everyone to a more emotional position and engages the actors. As for communication, it is effective. However, communication is merely one small part of change.
Q: What happens to those who are unable to change?
B.A.: Is business to grow? Or merely survive? Another one of my key assertions involves how an organization must transform itself and, in particular, with respect to competitors in order to thrive. Strategy and vision are key to the change process to assure growth and transformation.
Take UBER for example. This company represents a good example of embracing change and finding a business model which is both community-based and agile.
Air France, by contrast, is a perfect example of how not to manage change. So bad is their change process that Air France employees are reacting with fear and volatility. They clearly do not feel safe.
Q: What advice do you give Executive MBA’s and companies then?
B.A.: Companies do not put their money on the right elements to truly create change. They often have the idea that if you simply “train” people, they will develop new strategies and business models. I disagree with this premise and insist that training alone does not change behavior.
People are required to deal with problems but are faced with rigid corporate cultures. Also, leaders need to change and this will assuredly be painful. Consequently, viewing change as a training process is a limited perspective.
True change means changing culture and companies must reinvent the way they change human behavior. Instilling behaviors such as “mindfulness” and “self-awareness” encourage change. And, as change involves a shift in behavior, mere training and communication are inadequate to incite change.
Q: So, how does change really happen?
B. A.: The key to change is finding the right “change agent” and this will differ in every situation. Possible change agents involve coaching, feedback, deeper understanding of problems and issues, making people comfortable with the idea of change and then giving them a part in that change.
By creating a “cycle of safety”, people genuinely become part of change and develop a sense of pride in the outcome.
The most powerful change agents are always the various people throughout an organization. People can be a catalyst for change by relaying information and modeling behavior. This form of “bottom up” feedback can have great impact, yet is not how things are traditionally done. This kind of thinking spells the end to the notion that “he is the boss, so change must come from him”.
Finding the right person with the right “soft skills” and who is both energetic and willing will generally create an effective change agent. Companies must invest more in this type thinking in order to see true change.
There also needs to be a shift from the notion of “individual survival” to collective success and it is up to leaders to make this happen.
Q: What about change with respect to leadership and management?
B.A.: Ironically, it is within the upper management layer of corporations that we find the most resistance to change. Managers are often uncomfortable themselves with how they must manage.
And, there is a big difference between being a leader and leading. Being a leader is established through hierarchy. Whereas leading involves changing behavior. A subtle but important difference, this represents a completely new approach for most companies.
There is much research in this area to support this idea.
Q: How then, can we best communicate and change behavior?
B.A.: The purely “process” perspective must change to a “people” perspective. This is where the future of change exists currently.
There must be alignment among top managers and they must speak with the same voice and have the same level of energy. There must also be a true plan in place to achieve success. Leaders must create the conditions for success. Perception among employees is directly linked to leaders’ behavior.
When the head changes, the rest of the body follows. So what we need to do to ensure successful change is to build a plan and this will involve working on each leader collectively as well as individually.
The plan and, in particular, its implementation will need to be revised and communicated and, at this point, there is a place for training. There need to be milestones to assess the effectiveness of the plan and all people involved will need to be held accountable.
Companies are now facing a serious decision phase that must happen if change is going to be possible.
Benoit AUGER is an experienced consultant and an executive coach. Benoit has extensive experience managing multi-disciplined projects involving large-scale organizational transformation that increase companies’ capability and performance. His expertise includes organizational change management, strategy implementation, competency modelling, team building & coaching, and developing Leadership of Top Executives and High Potentials. He has worked worldwide for companies such as BNPP, EDF, Air Liquide, Société Générale, ALCAN or Cartier. He is certified in Facet5 questionnaire, Behavioural Event Interviews and in the neurocognitivism approach. Benoit holds an Executive Master in “Business Consulting” from ESCP, a Master degree in Economy & Business Administration from Kedge BS.