Political Infrastructure of Change

Leaders and managers involved in change programs cherish the notion that merits of their new vision will speak for itself. More often than not, change requires more than just its merits. Neither the effectiveness of technology nor the promise of its empowerment guarantees success. Matter of fact is that cognition of merit, like experiences and learning, is subjective. ( Rob Legato discusses how he experienced it while recreating the Saturn V launch sequence for 'Apollo-13'. ) No wonder sometimes others don't agree with our insights. We expect truth and facts to prevail, but the triumph of insanity and imprudence is a story repeatedly told. Moments like these are frustrating. An eerily familiar comment sighed, "It's politics." I believe that political infrastructure should get as much of a leader's attention as technical. Given the lack of exposure to it, I'd even go as far as to say that development of the following capabilities should take precedence for a leader:

  • Politicking. Political and organizational talent is a must to successfully implement change. We, usually, learn skills and trades like software technology and operations management. Seldom do we learn about politicking. Concepts such as trust, hope, suspicion, and despair aren't in any high school curriculum, as far as I know. Let alone illusion, delusion, disillusion, and wisdom. Interpretation of optimism, content, and pessimism is another area of deficit commonly observed in executives. In my experience of working with some effective leaders, I have clearly noticed the link between their sharp politicking abilities and an awareness of the concepts mentioned above.
  • Story Telling. The art of story telling is widely admired in leaders. A lack of it is often the first thing people point out when they talk about lack of leadership. Steven Denning has written extensively about it in his book The Art of Radical Management. Stories that promote optimism, a desire for drive, add context and perspective to situations, define reality, tell the truth and, paint a future are the grease of a  good enterprise. Story telling is key to building the flexibility for change in an organization.
  • Reasoning. This one is the most surprising of the three. Not because of the lack of it, but because of lack of time for it. Reasoning to build right mental models is an imperative. These mental models serve as memes, which fuel the engine of change. An example of lack of a weak mental model would be confusing unity with uniformity. It is a common trap most change managers fall into. Subconscious expectations include, amongst many, a desire for uniform application of vision across the board. That often rubs the 'subjects' of the change the wrong way. It appears to insult the intelligence and curtail freedom at work. There's not much freedom left in a modern large organization. It seems to me that most change agents end up fighting over uniformity when they should be focused on building a unity for their vision. This is an example of a poor mental model that leads to a wasted opportunity. So, take time to think yourself and promote reasoning in your staff. Mental Models are the equivalent of genes in an organization. Spread good ones around.

[Image taken from: http://workplacepsychology.net/2010/02/05/implementing-change-and-overcoming-resistance/]