Change Ownership Problems?
For years I've really struggled with explaining why it is that change management initiatives fail at such a high rate. Intuitively, I've understood why, but just don't always have the right words or pictures to explain it. In the last few years, I've taken my 20 years of experience and done a lot of deep thinking for a PhD. Ownership is definitely a disconnected, if not missing, piece.
I found out about the theory of psychological ownership in organizations complements of Pierce, Kostova & Dirks (2001) who were working together a decade ago in New Zealand. They simply define psychological ownership as a state of mind where one feels something is theirs (i.e. it is mine). If this doesn't explain what is wrong with change management, then I don't know what does.
Yours, Mine & Ours
Let me break it down for you. I'm not talking about the movie here, but instead the concepts. The average American worker cares about me, myself and I. Here is a simple image ...
When leaders and consultants create a new strategy, only some leaders and a few consultants have the feeling that "this change is mine." To the majority of the organization, the change is "yours, not mine."
The only way I'll be committed to "yours" is if it intersects with "mine."
Change Roles Matter
Here is yet another way to look at the average change initiative and it's major flaws. Inspired by the work of Cawsey, Desza, & Ingols (2012), I've created the change initiative roles that describe the average organizational change initiative.
The main sub-roles for any change initiative are as follows:
1. Initiators/sponsors (top executives)
2. Project team members (consultants & employees)
3. Consultants (internal and external)
4. Implementers (middle managers)
Unfortunately, this leaves the majority of internal stakeholders on the outside looking in. These 3 groups are best described by Barry Oshry:
1. Tops (top executives)
2. Middles (middle managers)
3. Bottoms (employees)
What most of us change agents do not realize is that a pretty significant wall separates insiders from outsiders.
The change agents represent a small fraction of the entire organization. Unfortunately, these are the folks with the most ownership because it is theirs ... they created it. Some of them even say, "this is mine." This leaves the majority of the leaders, middle managers and employees as outsiders.
The majority is left saying:
This is YOUR change, not mine.
Change agents keep doing the same thing and asking:
Why do they keep resisting change?
The real inconvenient truth about change management is that leaders and change agents do not want to invest the time, energy, and patience required to build ownership into the process.
Cawsey, T. F., Desza, G., & Ingols, C. (2012). Organizational change: An action-oriented toolkit. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Pierce, J.L., Kostova, T., & Dirks, K.T. (2001). Towards a theory of psychological ownership in organizations. Academy of Management Review, 26(2), 298-310.