My favourite word beginning with C

16 Nov

As a writer I love words and language. The English Language, alas the only one I speak, is a beautiful construct, it evolves as we do, increasing it’s lexicon as we find new and interesting ways to describe the world around us. ‘Retweet, Manflu and infograph were all added to official usage this year whilst aerodrome and charabanc all had time called on their existence having fallen out of popular usage. Despite this loss and gain of words, some have remained constant and it’s one such word I dedicate this post to.

The word that I want to talk about is one of my favourite words and concepts. This word was the heart and soul of Charles Darwin’s most celebrated works; in 2008, this word was exactly what the American people wanted to hear and became the catalyst for them doing something that they had not done before; and earlier this year, this word rang out throughout the Arab World and announced their spring of popular discontent and uprisings. The word is, of course, CHANGE.

I was raised to embrace change and over the years I have grown to love it. In my humble opinion there are few greater thrills in life than affecting positive change on whatever scale, micro or macro, it’s a truly amazing thing to be involved in. This said, I have come to realise these sentiments are not shared by everyone.

For many people, change of any type is something to be feared and to be resisted. For these people, things are better when they stay exactly the same and I have noticed this is especially true of Organisational Change, which is the focus of this post. Seth Godin likens change within some organisations to a unicorn in a balloon factory. The people working in the balloon factory know how to make balloons well, just so long as nothing changes, but a unicorn is unknown and many don’t know how to react and they find themselves paralysed with fear. Many of us work in balloon factories, but all of us are living in a world with an ever increasing number of unicorns.

If you’re reading this, whether you work for a Local Authority, like me, or somewhere in the private sector, the chances are that you will have experienced organisational change recently. The global economic slump and faltering recovery has lead (and is leading) to change on an unprecedented scale, the models that we relied on and that worked yesterday no longer work today; the unicorns are running amok.

I find it interesting how organisations deal with change and the way that change is communicated. Time-and-again I hear the same story: a few months into a big change process, where no particular attention has been paid to communication, issues begin popping up all over the place. You begin to hear managers complain that staff are not getting behind the change, malicious rumours are flying around and damaging things begin to leak out to the press, which has the knock-on effects of increasing pressure on everyone and lowers moral dramatically. I was inspired to write about this as there seems to be a worrying trend when these issues start arising.

Picture the scene: 2 months into a change process, no extra thought has been given to internal communication above the norm and a group of managers are meeting to discuss the problems. Manager one reveals that there has been another leak, highly damaging and untraceable; manager two admits savings targets are unlikely to be met as staff are not engaging with change and it goes on…round the table, everyone has issues. Eventually someone will chip in, normally with the smug satisfaction of someone who has created lasting world peace and solved the energy crisis whilst being fellated by a mermaid, they will say: ‘ah but change is a process they are just coming to terms with it…’

They normally go on to talk about the natural cycle of emotions to change, maybe draw a nice curve with the following 5 elements:  Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and, finally, Acceptance. Normally this is used to justify no special attention being paid to internal communication, ‘hey, change is a curve right? They’ll get there in the end, let’s just leave them to it!’ Five stages, sounds cool right?

Some of you reading this may recognise the 5 stages from somewhere else, if you’ve been through the process of grieving for a loved-one you’ll know them as the ‘5 Stages of Grief’ or the Kübler-Ross Model of grief. This for me is the first problem, if you’re comparing your change process to the death of a loved-one then there is something massively awry with your approach to change.  Grief is something that happens to people against their will; no one chooses for a loved one to die, no one plans to get divorced or to get raped and here’s the big difference with change. In my opinion, change is something you should do WITH staff, not something that you do TO them.

In my opinion, change communication is simple and best summed up by this: communicate often, keep on message, reinforce the need for and the positive outcomes of change and provide an outlet for staff to ask questions. Simple and no one has to die.


3 Responses to “My favourite word beginning with C”

  1. mastersorbust November 17, 2011 at 5:07 pm #

    Paul, an eloquent post to be sure and like you have lived through a few change processes both good and bad.

    However, whilst I agree with your collaborative approach to change there are two things that for me make Kubler Ross and it’s progression VERY relevant to the change process.

    Firstly, however collaborative a change process may be people still are entitled to feel a sense of loss for the “old way”, whether they are aware of it before hand and have been involved in shaping it’s progress, some will experience all those emotions. Rather than seeing this as a threat I think it’s a very positive thing as they are committed to moving the organisation forward.

    Also, again the the cavet of colloboration, the buck always stops somewhere and whilst organisations are flatter than they used to be and involvement/engagement more front of mind there will always be those who enact the change and those who ‘recieve’ the impacts of that enactment. You will know well how different it feels to be on one side or the other and however well your process is designed those not involved in the decision to enact will always have some reaction, whether it positive or negative that needs to be acknowledged.


  2. paulcoxon81 November 17, 2011 at 11:13 pm #

    Hi Rob, thanks for the reply. I hadn’t considered about the entitlement to feel a sense of loss for the ‘old ways’, you make a good point. Having read back my post I realise it should really have been 3 posts: one on my love of change, one on change itself and one on change comms. The way it currently reads is a little bit on the critical side of staff resistance to change, which is not where I wanted the focus to be.

    My main issue is with the idea of a ‘leave them to it’ approach from some managers that I’ve seen and heard about. If you’re best friends wife died I’m sure no one would just leave them to their grief. I am aware of a number of change management consultants who advocate, leaving the people behind who want to grieve and engaging the people who want to push change forward. I don’t like it, I may be an idealist, but I prefer not to leave folk behind.

    I’d be very interested to see if there are any studies that look at organisation communication style and the organisation success during change. I would predict a link between crap comms and badly delivered change.

    Passion for Organisational Development is something that took me by surprise, along with Internal Comms strongly suspect both are products of my past work as a Trade Union and knowing a couple of fantastic practitioners in both fields.

    Anyway thanks so much for taking the time to read and respond to this Rob, you’ve given me one of the best gifts anyone can: new things to think about.. Have to admit when I wrote this one, half of me wanted you to read it and half me dreaded the thought of you reading it. You’re kind words are appreciated and greatly encouraging. I have a few more similar to this which I’ll be posting over next few weeks.



  1. Change Communication: Rumour Watch « Paul Coxon's moments - November 21, 2011

    […] Communication: Rumour Watch 21 Nov Following on from my post about Change (My favourite word beginning with C) I’ve been giving some though to the common issues that arise during a Change process and […]


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