On the Critical Path of Change – Engagement

Back in the days that paddlewheel steamboats plied their way up and down America’s mighty Mississippi and Ohio rivers, carrying passengers and cargo, one of the critical activities for the boat’s crew was the regular testing of the depth of the river. It was essential to know if the depth was decreasing, so as to avoid running aground and possibly losing cargo – or lives. In fact, Samuel Clements took his pen name, “Mark Twain”, from a call frequently made regarding river depth. It meant “two fathoms” or 12 feet deep, indicating that the boat was in safe water.

The frequency of the measurement activity was important back then, in order to avoid catastrophe. Today, we see the same need for frequent action as modern day organizations embark upon journeys of change down their own rivers. These journeys are as fraught with their own kind of danger as any steamboat captain ever faced.

One critically important activity to ensure the success of the change journey is the frequent and effective engagement of the employees at all levels of the organization. All too often we have heard organizations “tell” their employees that change was coming, only to later “announce” what that change was. This was done with the expectation that that hundreds or thousands of people would just collectively say “Sure, no problem. That makes all the sense in the world.”

People don’t actually think, act or respond that way. They are suspicious of change and worried that it will be “done to them.” But the organizations that get their people involved in the need for the changes, the design of the changes, and the implementation of the changes, and encourage people to practice, test, challenge, and continuously improve upon the changes, typically see a significantly more successful and sustainable change journey for their businesses. The breadth and quality of the ideas and solutions, and the acceptance of them, is what makes the difference.

Through frequent engagement, just like testing the depth of the river, organizations can avoid ending their journeys on hidden rocks and sand dunes – obstacles that they did not need to hit.

Martin Thompson

Martin Thompson is a Client Partner at Evolve Partners. In his 27 years as a consultant, he has been a part of helping many clients achieve results that last, in a way that also builds their capabilities and ownership of the changes.  He provides clients at all levels with valuable insights that help them navigate their way through the "breadth and depth" of operational improvement and organizational transformation.