What I’m about to say in no way means that I’ve done extensive research on the subject nor that I have conclusive evidence. It is only an observation I’ve made many times that I’ve wanted to write about. I often notice that there are some really nice luxury cars sitting in the queue at the McDonalds drive-thru. Although I’ve been in the queue on occasion (for the grilled chicken sandwich, really), I tend to notice that some of the more expensive cars on the road are sitting there waiting to order.

The question is why is this even relevant. Don’t people with really nice cars have the same tastes as the rest of us? Are not people with an above average income allowed to eat fast food instead of always having to eat at finer establishments? The answers are of course “yes” to both questions but the truth is we do tend to notice when two things don’t immediately appear to go together.
The reason we do this is because we have a preconceived mindset and a set of expectations about how people should behave under certain circumstances and specific environments. Even though these may be unspoken or not even at the forefront of our minds, certain events trigger them. For me, and some others I’ve spoken to, it seems when we see a 7 series or an S class in a drive-thru queue we immediately wonder why this person needs to eat there, apart from loving that particular food, which is reason enough in itself.

I’ve heard several times that “you can take the man out of but you can’t take out of the man”. This is of course meant to say that people do experience change but very few, if any, to the extent where the core influences, culture, social impact and values they were raised with entirely disappear. In other words, we each have things we hold on to and never really expect to get rid of or even see any reason in doing so. It also raises many other questions on the topic of change and how change relates to expectations and perceptions we have about ourselves and others. The guy in the queue at the drive-thru in the 7 series may have grown up with that food as a staple part of his diet and may completely love it, therefore no matter how much he makes nor what he drives has any bearing on his desire to continue going there when he has a craving. Again, nothing wrong with that but some people do form opinions about how we live and what we do.
In business, I dare say that most of the major initiatives that organisations undertake have their success or failure directly tied to the extent of change that people will go through or are willing to go through. There is much emphasis on IT, business process, organisational design and this thing we call change management. The emphasis on these things often supersedes the reality of just how large the task is for people to have a different mindset about the work altogether. We spend an enormous amount of time drawing charts and diagrams, building project plans and creating lots of slide-ware; all to further the cause of the initiative. We spend less time asking the people involved important questions about their views, perceptions, expectations and even feelings.

We fail to completely understand the environment and it’s deep seeded impact on how people work and why they do the things they do. We make assumptions such as people will view things the way we do or since we went through this change in the past and have had similar experiences then others must come along the same way or even at the same speed of change. This can be seen in several types of organisations such as public sector or financial services or manufacturing. Each brings with it a unique set of cultural and operational values that are not often visible to outsiders, especially those tasked with helping introduce change and transformational type initiatives.

I pulled out some questions we’ve asked of people in the past in organisations where change programs were being introduced. Understanding those “unspoken” views of the people were critical to the success of the program. Some of the questions and answers we received included:

  • Why are you not outwardly supportive and cooperative regarding this new policy the company has introduced?
  • I care so much about the company’s welfare that I am challenging the true benefit this policy brings.
    I don’t need one more thing to do or to interrupt my routine, therefore even though the company needs to do this, it’s not working for me.
    The policy is needed but I believe it can be improved and want to ensure my voice is heard so I and others who are mostly impacted by this policy can work with the company to shape it correctly for all of us.

  • You were making progress with this new program but you seem to be defaulting back to what you were doing previously, what is the reason?
  • I’m struggling to learn and the path of least resistance is just easier but I’m afraid to admit that and ask for help.
    I really don’t see the reason to change, my job is not at risk and I’m providing enough of what is needed doing what I’ve always done.
    I never agreed with this new program and figured I’d go along until it became too much work.

  • As a key stakeholder you are sending mixed messages to others on the team, is there a misunderstanding or blocker that you need to talk about?
  • My perception is that this type of company can’t really adapt to this type of change, they don’t really go together (drive-thru perception).
    I want this to work since it is important for me personally but I really don’t care about the detail, I leave that to others
    I have not invested the time to truly understand the full impact, risk and benefits so I need help doing that so I can be clear about messages I send.

To some extent, these and other questions do get asked but the frequency with which they are asked and how they are revisited is what can increase or decrease both the risk and speed of change. People have perceptions and expectations about what works, what goes together and what doesn’t. When we work with people to help them go on a journey where change will be uncomfortable, unnerving and somewhat onerous, we need to ensure that we are not placing our perceptions and expectations on them, assuming they need to come along the same way we would. Sometimes change programs are initiated with a group level mentality, meaning that we expect groups of people to come through the funnel and all come out the same way. People learn at the rate they are capable of and it is our role to help the people in organisations come along at the right pace, which will be unique to each person.

See you at the drive-thru.

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