What makes change difficult?

05.12.2023 from CA Redaktion | Controlling English
What makes change difficult

Tips that help to manage change projects more easily

An article from Detlev R. Zillmer, trainer and partner of CA controller akademie

It is helpful to clarify when we want to speak of “change”. Change is about changes in organizations, and consequently – also about changes in the behavior of individuals. Here, it is about intentional disruption, the questioning of the previous status quo with the consequence of consciously stepping out of the existing order. According to this, small corrections in the existing organizational, such as process improvements or the integration of something new into existing structures – and this is the key point – are not change projects.

Systemic Approach

The topic of change has always been closely with the systemic approach. An existing organization or structure it is a system that is built up from a multitude of relationships with one another. Therefore, everything is connected to everything else. Comparable to the human organism. If a person has high blood pressure, that person must be considered. Systemic approach typically includes the external (also called as a system-environment relationship).

Illusion of Control

Anyone who deals with change runs the risk of succumbing to the so-called “illusion of control”. In other words, believing that you can plan change like a business plan – and then fulfill it according to the plan. The illusion of control also becomes apparent when, in the change process, those involved believe they know where it will lead or how it will continue. The fragile system “Change” is subject to the attempt of manipulation. This increases the risk that this change project will be damaged. On the one hand, change requires courage and curiosity about the unknown.

Organization of a third-party View

Developments, blockades, resistances, manipulation attempts, and possible undesirable developments want to be and should be observed, assessed and constructively worked on.  Also, those who are themselves affected by change are of ten emotionally bound by it. And act within the structures and limits familiar from the existing system. If the topic of change can be dealt with in a solution-open manner. The insights gained in the process are mirrored back to those responsible for the change – which is supposed to enable the changing system to learn. Changes in the approach, altered prioritization, and revised.

Communication Behavior

There are no hierarchy-free organizations. Without goodwill, or optimism, but also defense and protection of the change project by managers. A change project dies if the impression is created that various, especially decisive people have other priorities. It would be negligent to leave them to their own devices. Instead, it is expected that fears and needs are recognized, actively as well as appreciatively addressed by those responsible for the change.

Feedback Rounds

No one can see inside anyone. That’s why formal structures  are needed within which the effects of the ongoing change project can be discussed without fear or reservation. But, of course, also about new ideas and additions. For this, the rule can be agreed upon that the defense of the present course and condition of the change  is forbidden in these rounds. Another rule is that these meetings should always take place in the presence of the hierarchical position(s) that initiated the change project and are responsible for it. Another approach is to use interview forms similar to psychological storytelling. Interview teams travel throughout the company and to all hierarchical levels to listen to feelings, fears, worries, but also positive aspects, opportunities, achievements. Change is complicated because almost every “case” is different. Previous experiences can be helpful, but they can also be blinding and lead to false assumptions or conclusions. In this way, the levels of knowledge complement each other, it is easier to classify the thoughts and approaches, the tools used are better accepted, and the motivation for implementation is at a higher level right from the start.

Questions for Controlling

  • What is your general knowledge of the topic of change?
  • When do you want to use the word “change” in your company? The term usually triggers a wide range of emotions, which should be considered in advance.
  • As a controller, are you invited to change projects and events? A change alters corporate structures.
  • What alternative planning methods are available to you to incorporate the planning uncertainties that generally accompany a change?
  • How good are you at inventing metrics? A change project also needs to be “controlled”. Existing metrics may measure the wrong thing.

Some of these questions are talked about in the current issue of the Controller Magazine. Should you want to discuss them with me, you can reach me under d.zillmer@ca-akademie.de

Detlev Zillmer


Dipl.-Kfm. Prof. Detlev R. Zillmer

Trainer and partner of
CA Akademie AG

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