Organisational Change & Fixing The Right Problem

Consistently ace housing blogger (and fellow Neil enthusiast) Neil Goodrich posted an interesting piece about organisational change and dealing with the resistance that people can feel as a result.

Go on, go off and read it — I’ll wait for you to come back.

Done it?.. good! I thought the anecdote about the parking space next to the garage was really interesting. Here’s a brief overview.

  • Garage has adjacent bit of green space that people use unofficially for FREE car parking.
  • Garage gets fed up with this, puts some concrete plant pots in the way.
  • People continue to park between the plan pots.
  • Garage puts MORE plant pots in the way.
  • Problem solved.. right?

This feels a lot like how change has been typically dished out. We want to change peoples behaviour to fix this problem — how can we enforce the behaviour that WE want to see?

Whilst the issue has technically been resolved by making the area unusable for cars, here’s the issue. The people parking there have zero understanding of why they shouldn’t park there, nor why plant pots keep appearing. It’s an annoying hurdle getting in the way of what they want to do (park their car).

Before the garage rushed to a solution (plant pots galore) there are some questions they should be asking. Who are people parking on the green space? How long are they parking there? Are they parking to use the garage shop? (isn’t that beneficial?). Is there adequate parking available? Do they have any disabilities which make parking anywhere else difficult? Is there a wider issue outside of just the garage and the green space that we’re not aware of?

The shorter way to say this is.. what are their needs?

When you start with this question, you are perceiving the problem from the mirror opposite of where you’d usually start. That is to say, you stop thinking about what the organisation needs, and start thinking about what the customer needs.

Whilst the plant pots absolutely fixed the ‘problem’ with parking, they may of missed a larger opportunity to delight customers by fulfilling a need rather than bludgeoning them into compliance.

“But what about behavioural nudges?” I hear you cry. Yes, I think that’s an entirely legit tactic to encourage positive behavioural change — but we absolutely must make sure that those changes are actually good for the customer and not just for the organisation (back to user needs). Dare I say that’s especially critical for those of us in the public and third sector.

When organisational change is driven from the top seemingly without speaking to those closest to the perceived problem, I think it’s destined for a bumpy ride. People often identify lack of buy-in as resistance that needs to be managed and controlled, but it might just be a sign that you’ve completely missed the actual needs of these people. Square peg, round hole.

I think that’s why I’ve steadily become an advocate for working transparently and employing user centred design. These two powerful tools combined ensure not only that you’re making organisational changes that meet the needs of the user/customer, but also that everyone knows why you’re making them in the first place.

Having this shared context and vision across the organisation helps ensure that everyone is pulling in the same direction — towards providing a better service to the customer, which should surely be the aim of all organisational change.

Got thoughts? I’d love to hear them!

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