Changing management behavior is difficult

Observation #16

carpedia-observation-16Change management requires looking at processes, systems and behaviors together because they significantly influence each other. Analyzing processes and systems is largely academic. If you put some smart people in a room and ask them to look closely at your processes and systems, they will figure out better ways to do things. The hardest thing for organizations to change is behavior. The way that people do things and the way they interact are the result of years of patterning. Getting anyone to change doing things that they are comfortable and familiar with is very tough. It’s where we spend the bulk of our time on projects.

One of the interesting things we do is to spend a “day in the life” of managers and categorize their time into activity buckets (actively managing, training, administration, firefighting, etc). At the end of the study, we carefully discuss  each “bucket” and then we ask the managers to estimate how they thought they spent their time. Then we go a little further and ask them: If you could control your environment, how would you now spend your time? What would you do more or less of during an ideal workday?

Most managers overestimate the time they spend actively managing others. Many also say that, in an ideal world, they would reduce the time they spend actively managing and shift it to training, for example. From a change-management perspective, these are very important facts to know. If managers start out by overestimating their actual active management time, and then conclude they should be doing less of it, you have a big gap between the direction they’re headed and the direction most performance improvement projects need to go. Most improvement initiatives require managers to increase their active management, not decrease it. To help close this gap, managers first need to properly understand how and why they are spending their time the way they do. They then need to rethink how their time might be more effectively distributed and what their workday would look like. Then, they have to change what they actually do, which means consciously changing familiar patterns of behavior. So it’s not surprising that organizational behavior change is difficult.