Dr. Who and the Jedi have encountered black holes. But black holes aren’t just fictional. In astrophysics, they are described as “a geometrically defined region of spacetime exhibiting such strong gravitational effects that nothing can escape from inside,” (Wikipedia).
There are black holes in change too…places in your organization where the change enters…but never gets out. Or, if something gets out, it isn’t your change.
If you have been through a few changes, you have seen the effect of black holes.
- Your boss tells you to keep on doing things like you always have. Don’t worry about the change; he’ll take care of it.
- You hear, “If you have time to do this the new way, okay… But first and foremost we need to keep our numbers up.”
- You go to–or watch–the town hall with your boss. When the big change is announced, you look at one another. She shrugs her shoulders; it’s the first she’s heard about it too.
- Your boss tells you that your department is being moved across the country; you are being asked to make the move as well. But the only way that your family–those who are really going to influence your decision–hear about what all of this means is from you when you come home. your employer never engages with them directly.
- The line supervisor announces the change; the shop steward says, “Don’t bother changing.”
- “The play is on.” When someone is watching, you make like the change is real. When they turn away, it’s “same old, same old.”
The bottom line when there is a black hole…if there is change further down the organization, it is not going to be the change you want. After all, how far were you ever willing to deviate from how your boss says you should be doing things just because his boss’s, boss’s boss said the organization should be doing them differently?
There are a myriad of ways that black holes show up during change.
There is one way to avoid them.
Enlist your key influencers. They may be sponsors, the line supervisors who give people direction day-to-day; the ones that communicate and provide consequences, both positive and negative. Or, they may be the influencers; the ones that everyone turns to in order to get their reading before deciding what to do…or not to do.
The sponsors are generally easy to identify. But don’t be fooled. In a union shop, the line supervisor may be the sponsor when things are stable; the shop steward may well become the sponsor when you roll out the change. When the change will significantly disrupt life at work, it may be the immediate supervisor; when the change will significantly disrupt life at home, it may well be the spouse, partner, significant other, or the entire family. It may be Mabel, employee # 3, who is a billing clerk, but has been at the hub of the influence wheel ever since employee # 4 was hired.
You cannot communicate around black holes; you need to close them. You need to enlist the person, or persons, who are causing them. Or, if they are employees, you need to remove them. Otherwise, from the black hole down, the change will fail. Black holes are every bit as fatal to changes as they are to stars and planets in the universe, to Dr. Who and the Tardis, and to the Jedi.
What have your black holes looked like? What did you do to close them? What happened if you didn’t? Comment below.