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Who Moved My Toaster?

Friday 30 September, 2016

Recently we replaced our kettle and toaster. Not a great event in itself but due to them being slightly different colours to the outgoing appliances we decided to move all the items on the kitchen tops around for the first time in years. This was hardly transformational but even though I have made a career out of facilitating change, I realised that I am not as good at accepting change as I thought: three weeks later and I’m still tempted to put everything back to where it started!

In IT we say things like “we live with change” or that “IT doesn’t stand still”. The problem is that we cannot go on that journey of change without others in our business.

When introducing a new or revised technology and selling the business improvements it will bring, in my experience organisations still don’t spend enough time considering the human impact. Some studies have shown that intelligent mammals will cling to the more comfortable solution than accept the more logical and beneficial option. Back to my kettle, despite the probably overdue and logical shift around, I’m having to think about where it is now in relation to the tap, especially when I’m on auto-pilot early in the morning.

Revolution or evolution?

When considering transitional and transformational change I started to wonder how many organisations truly transform. Most big change is now referred to as transformation yet often the change is actually more evolutionary than revolutionary. That’s not to say that transitional steps can’t result in a transformed way of working but even the ‘big guns’ of Apple and Amazon may have started by revolutionising but now are constantly evolving. Quite often what starts as revolution becomes evolution as the revolution is just too complex, painful and disruptive. As my colleague said in his recent blog, organisations need to think hard about whether they need a space shuttle when a bicycle chain will do.

A new kettle and toaster is hardly renovating the kitchen. Moving house is difficult and can bep painful, but isn’t the same kind of upheaval as emigrating. Whatever the size of change they all involve people who will have to go through the change curve, with an expectation and appreciation of how things will improve on a daily basis in the future and the journey that will be required to get there.

From a caterpillar to a butterfly

In my imaginary world where all animals have the same cognitive ability, if I showed a caterpillar a butterfly and told it that it would become turn into one in the future, it would drop the piece of leaf it’s eating, look at me with disbelief, and ask ‘why’? If I then said that to get there you will have to go through a really painful transformation which includes incarceration in a cocoon hanging from a branch while wings grow from your back, it’s likely it would say that it’s not interested. If, however, you asked the same caterpillar if it would like to be beautiful, admired by others and also be able to fly wherever it can, it’s more likely to be interested. It still has to go through the pain but having started with a clear vision, is more likely to appreciate the transformational steps that will have to be endured.

Many organisations approach transformation in the same way……we need to be digital, we need to move to the cloud, we need two speed IT. This makes transformation hard as people are being dragged on a difficult journey that they don’t fully appreciate or understand, especially if it seems to be IT rather than business led. This results in transformation either not starting, being unclear or even worse being something completely different – a monochrome butterfly with one wing is still a butterfly but it’s far from beautiful, admired and able to fly.

What’s important to consider alongside the kind of change, is to imagine the way the future will look (vision/blueprint), how it will change things on a daily basis, and how people (staff, colleagues and clients) are likely to respond to the change in terms of how involved they are, how much they understand and the personal impact on them.

Why, how and what

It’s often said that communication is key to successful change. That’s true but done in the wrong way it can also become a barrier if the medium or message is wrong.

I mentioned the ‘why’ question above. Author, speaker and consultant Simon Sinek uses a simple model of a golden circle made up of ‘Why?’, ‘How’ and ‘What’. People don’t buy into what we do but into why you want to do it. While he was specifically referring to leaders, this is so relevant to change and the two are entwined especially in transformational change.

So many times we sell the ‘what’ and ‘how’ in terms of what we are bringing in or replacing which generates the question, ‘why’? If that can be changed to evangelise the ‘why’ up front, then people are more likely to get on board. It’s not just about the implementation and testing but about how it will change things for the individual, how it may change ways of working, all those small things that make up the daily task, as well as how it helps the organisation.

The other consideration is how we communicate. Today we have more channels of communication than we can realistically cope with. It is important to identify the right medium for the message and the difference between the tell of a newsletter or memo and collaborative approach of Skype or a face to face meeting. Each can be used but back to the human element, we need to consider how each may be received and perceived. This becomes even more complicated and important to consider when you bring in remote staff, shift workers, non-computer users and global organisations. That then mixes with individual things like expectations, background, career path and personal circumstances. While we cannot cater for all of these, we mustn’t assume all people read or hear things in the same way.


The one ‘why’ element that can be measured is the benefit. At home I now have to go from the breadbin over to the other side of the kitchen where the toaster is, while before it was all in the same area. The qualitative benefit has been achieved but the quantitative wasn’t considered as it takes longer, especially as I’m still getting used to where things are now. Benefit identification, mapping, management and realisation is another blog in itself but involving teams in identifying and then owning their own individual benefits (and dis-benefits) that will result from transformation or transition is another great way of getting people to buy into the change and getting it embedded. We shouldn’t assume that we can know or predict all of the benefits: people have views, wants and opinions which can be harnessed and used in achieving the ultimate change goal.

While I’m pondering the question ‘why’ and how to communicate that better as part of my current transition project, I’m off to use my new kettle to transform some dry leaves in my butterfly mug.