Pull is Better Than Push

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about how organizations change.  The bottom line seems to be that successful change comes from people pulling it in.  You can’t push change in.  Do our projects focus on push or pull?

PullI’m part of planning for a project where thousands of people will have to change how they do their work.  The old system is about 30 years old.  The change will require thousands of people to redo 30 years of process and system connections to unplug the old and plug in the new.  How will they get ready to do this?

Recent consultant reports have recommended that we make a change to modern systems and integrated processes.  They describe the change and recommend how to go about it.  They provide methods, scope, sequence, timeframes and cost.  They say that change management will be important.  They seem authoritative.  They set expectations.  They help us get funding, which sets more expectations.  I think that the consultant’s are right to recommend change.  I don’t think that their recommendations fully consider what it will take to get the benefits we hope to achieve.

The one thing we rarely do in planning big changes like this is ask the people who have to make the change to plan it themselves.  It’s easier to hire a consultant to come in and interview a sample, make some observations, and then apply their expertise to say what should be done.  It’s harder to put the responsibility for really planning the change in the hands of the people who have to change.  That seems like it would be inefficient, messy, and out of control.

I’ve been part of change management efforts a few times.  More often than not they are just annoying to the people who have to change.  Consultants tell people about the change, that change is necessary and good, and that they should get ready.  They hold classes and draw up new process diagrams.  More often than not, this effort doesn’t help produce good results.  Sometimes they do.  The ones that work seem to do two things right:

  • They start early and give those involved time to understand and accept.
  • Those facilitating the change don’t talk much; they listen and encourage and document and leave the responsibility for change with those changing.

You can tell change management is working when those who will change are pulling the change in instead of having it pushed on them.  They choose to participate, they have input into new processes and decisions on how changes will affect them, and they commit to it being successful.  When this happens you’ve found something that can go right on your project.  The outcomes sought from the project beyond the system are more likely to be achieved.

One way to help make this happen is to balance your project manager side with your consultant side (see this post).  Many organizational development consultants advocate “strength based” approaches to change.  These approaches trust that the people who are changing will know best what will make a change successful.  Techniques like Open Space Technology and Appreciative Inquiry give people a chance to consider, express, and take responsibility for what can go right for them.  As project managers, whether we use these approaches or not, understanding their premise can help guide how we decide to interact with the people who will be affected by the change we bring.  Showing trust, asking for input, engaging people in planning and action can result in people to pulling the change in.

The hardest part is letting them do it.  For these “strength based” approaches to work, project sponsors and managers have to be willing to let go of some control.  They have to show trust and allow empowerment.  Scope, schedule, and budget – too often set for us by consultants’ reports – may be incongruent with sharing control over how the change should happen.  It’s a dilemma.  Do we push for project success defined by scope, schedule, and budget; or by people changing in a way that achieves the outcomes and benefits sought?

Dan Rockwell’s Leadership Freak post today partly inspired this post from me.  He has such good timing.  I liked this list from Dan’s post “Five Strategies for Changing Others.”  References to “Oz” are about seeing a better place than Kansas.

“How to change others:

  1. Work on changing you before others. Go no further until you’ve made changes!
  2. Don’t demonize Kansas unless it’s already disappointing. Criticizing an acceptable present to those who built it makes enemies not allies.
  3. Celebrate the people and behaviors that built the present. They build the future. Don’t insult them.
  4. Talk about Oz in the language of Kansas. Connect with their passion to make a difference. Ignite aspirations. Often, inspiring others centers on helping others find courage.
  5. Paint others in the picture. Help them see where they fit in. Connect current passion with future possibility. When people see themselves in the future they find courage to release the past.”

Good advice.  These steps help people pull in change.  I’m going to try to fit them into our project.  Think about how they can work for you.

Thanks for reading.

Copyright 2013 Glenn Briskin and The Other Side of Risk

Photo from Hope College at http://www.hope.edu/pr/pull/people.html

5 thoughts on “Pull is Better Than Push

  1. Hi Glenn,

    Once again, you take it further and deeper. I too really liked Dan’s post today. This is directly relevant to a small leadership role I’m involved in. I needed to hear this:

    They start early and give those involved time to understand and accept.
    Those facilitating the change don’t talk much; they listen and encourage and document and leave the responsibility for change with those changing.



  2. In using these ideas, I’ve gone one deeper and found the loudest and most obstinate, most resistant to change individual. The nay-sayer if you will. Put this person on the project team and listen and ask questions. This person can become your champion!

    • I’ve had that experience! Not finding the right person and putting them on the project but discovering that the one on every project who is like this is often the most valuable to me, as lead.

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