Raising kids in puberty and organizational change (Part 2)

About copying each other’s behavior

This blog article is about “The similarities between raising kids in puberty and employees going through an organizational change project”. What are the parallels, and what can we learn from these two groups of people?

How much effort does it take to get something done with and through these individuals? How flexible are you, yourself, – as an educator or change agent – in making it all happen?

Geert-Jan de Steur

In my previous article, I wrote about how difficult it is to speak the same language with our own kids, particularly when they are in puberty. And that, when acting as a change manager, I often witness similar challenges when communicating with employees during organizational change projects. In this article, I share with you the experiences with my children (2 girls) 10 and 16 years old, who are actually copying each other’s’ behavior. And this ‘mirroring’ behavior, makes educating them a real challenge.

To educate

Okay, here is one of these very striking examples. Our 16- year old daughter would have her 17th birthday on September 8th. A week before her birthday she told us, “she wanted to throw a birthday party”. Okay, we said, we will give it some thought. Some days later, during the process of agreeing, and making it all happen, “puberty strikes” big time! On Monday, 3 days after the initial request, our oldest daughter walks up to us and states determinedly: “This Thursday is my birthday and thus I will throw a birthday party. I invited 25 friends and they will be coming over, so for you to know!” In our calendar Thursday is still a week-day, with after that Friday, which is a normal school day. So we had some generic organizational questions. During our conversation, my oldest daughter, with a tone of voice so typical for a girl in puberty, shouts at us: “You don’t want me to have a birthday party, do you? You don’t even like my friends, I can never spontaneously come home with my friends without always having to ask permission in advance. I always have to be home in time while my friends can all stay out till late… “. Speechless and silenced we were, by our daughters’ comments. She was obviously speaking a different language than us.

Meanwhile carefully studied the way we were handling the situation with our 16-year-old. She waited commenting, exactly till the moment conversational chaos reached its peak. Then it happened, precisely at this moment in the conversation our youngest came with the announcement:” Oh… I have invited my friends on Facebook for this week’s party too. My birthday is in the summer break and because of that I never have a birthday party and never get presents”. We were stunned because this is so untrue. She was copying the behavior of her older sister and had waited for the most chaotic moment in the discussion to make her announcement.

Organizational Change

Now I realize that the use of communication and speaking the same language in organizational change, is fundamentally not so very different from raising kids in puberty. There is however one difference, you are now dealing with adults. Adults showing the same behavior as kids in puberty. The only difference is that with adults it is much more difficult to address issues than with children. During change management projects I see precisely the same reactions of employees when responding to issues. They too are copying others’ behavior, challenging managers to either react or not to react. For the success of a change project, the consequences are huge, when not dealt with in the right way.

In most cases, employees that participate in change will always challenge the new strategy, especially when it is not cultivated, repeated and explained again and again. They will also challenge the way the organizational change is organized:
– “We hate Monday morning meetings, can we please meet on Wednesday?”.
– If the norm is, that we (as a team) propose template A, and one of the team members is using template B, and others use template C.
– If you decide to use Skype for the whole company, and some members are using ‘Go2Meeting’ and others prefer to use ‘Google Hangout’.
– And finally, if in a workshop, one person walking in and out of the meeting to “stay in touch with customers” and subsequently, after lunch, more people are walking in and out because they too have important “stuff” to do…

The solution

Although it being really challenging to communicate on several levels within the organization, the best way out is to name the behavior you see and ask for input from the group members. Is it OK, if we use multiple templates? Do you want to discuss this on a weekly basis or bi-weekly? Will this be helpful for timely reporting? And if not, then what template do you propose as being the best? And if we take a decision, is that going to be a unanimous one? Asking these questions to those involved, make the approach much more participative, and appears to be a much more effective way of approaching the group, than a more directive style of communication.

By the way, this is how we finely approached our daughters: “Did we ever forget you? Did we ever not throw you a birthday party? Did we ever not invite your friends? Can we jointly handle 25 boys and girls in our house at the same time? Are these folks really all friends of yours? How badly do you want this party, and what are you going to contribute to make it work? How are you going to plan the event and what groceries do we need? Is everybody drinking orange juice or apple juice!”. This suddenly makes it more participative, which is actually better then telling them how you want to have it done as a parent. Invite them, involve them, and make them part of the process. Do I forget this sometimes? Way too often, I can tell you.

The Essence

1. The true message of it all is that if in both cases (when involved in change processes, or dealing with raising kids in puberty), you are not clear in your message and not able to explain and repeat the same message over and over again, you will get confronted with deviant behavior.
2. Truth is employees and kids will keep on challenging you, precisely at those moments when pressure is at its peak. Most annoying of this behavior is that it is always there while executing change processes. And you know for sure that it will hit you “right between the eyes” at the most unexpected moment.
3. Participation or engagement or ownership makes people part of the change process. It is the key success element of your change process.
4. But applying a simple, repetitive and scalable format is the other key success element. One that everybody forgets. It is like writing without equipment.

Epilogue

Strange isn’t it. That when undergoing change we always talk about people but we forget the crucial essence of a simple, repetitive and scalable approach! Or we tend to make the structure so heavy that nobody understands it anymore and knows what to do.

While raising kids in puberty this simple, repetitive and scalable approach appears to be essential too. Only then you will be able to stay in control and not make it an ad-hoc activity.

Change, participation and communication do not really differ from each other when used in a residential environment or business environment. In order to change successfully you need both people and an understandable approach for all to use. It’s a pity that we do not use this experience and tend to go for the status quo approaches!