vOne of the things that always seesms to surprise people who do organizational change projects (and pretty much all IT projects are organizational change projects) is that it takes longer to change things than you thought it would. While you are waiting for things to settle down, you can’t walk away or everything that you brought to them walks out with you.
My best clients have been those that have been so far gone that they really had nothing to lose, and the home offices (what sociologist Michael Kearl has called “Fantasy Island”) were actively distancing itself from the places. Think disaster that any sane person would run from. They were forced into a transformation (we’ll cover this later) by an outsourcing contract that sold them all to CSC or Perot. I noticed that implementing something meant staying long enough that people started asking why you were there. There seemed to be an amnesia that folks got where they would forget the problems that they had during the transformation. Which was invariably ugly. Lots of political fighting. I always designed my processes to use the hatred to further my goals for them, which was to create a stable environment. Animosity rather than hatred, I suppose.
Why do I always think that it won’t take that long?
Perhaps we’re simply naive about the role of consulting and the problems of shifting values. Warren observes the time that it takes to go through the management spiral:
The whole transformation process takes 5-10 years, possibly less if conditions are favourable, longer if not. [Aren’t they always “not”? – EFC] Don’t be disheartened….
It takes so long because values, however useful and obvious, cannot be instilled like pieces of equipment, or new legal requirements or the latest technique. Reflect on the fact that identity change within a person does not normally occur until after about 18 months of full immersion in a new environment. In the arena of culture change, quick fixes are not real.
It all takes time. Time that most of us don’t really want to spend. We’re in a hurry: we already know these things. We’re not the ones going through life upheaval. It takes just as long when it’s us. Which we conveniently forget most of the time.
Warren is a noted psychoanalyst (his articles with Cohen on Primal Repression have been called “landmark” in the field) in addition to his many other accomplishments. He knows what he’s talking about with that 18 months.
What’s interesting is that if you are thinking about it, building and strengthening a dynamic and successful organizational culture so that it can survive is a massive undertaking. Doing it in only 5-10 years is amazingly fast.
Apply this to the current situation in Iraq. Decades of abuse by western powers, abuse by Ba’athists, wars with Iran, the world, and the US-led Coalition, and the internal tensions have left his region awash in nothing much but bad. If we spent some time thinking about it, they could probably build a nation for themselves in just a few years.
Anyway, for organizations, you can go from “Just Get It Done” pragmatism to a dynamical pragmatism in just ten years. That’s not that long.
It takes perseverance. It takes wisdom. It takes self-awareness. It takes autonomy, responsibility and reflection. But it can be done.
Which, surely, is something.
Image Credit: Manhattan Bridge under construction, 1909. Library of Congress collection.