icm2re logo. icm2:re (I Changed My Mind Reviewing Everything) is an  ongoing web column  by Brunella Longo

This column deals with some aspects of change management processes experienced almost in any industry impacted by the digital revolution: how to select, create, gather, manage, interpret, share data and information either because of internal and usually incremental scope - such learning, educational and re-engineering processes - or because of external forces, like mergers and acquisitions, restructuring goals, new regulations or disruptive technologies.

The title - I Changed My Mind Reviewing Everything - is a tribute to authors and scientists from different disciplinary fields that have illuminated my understanding of intentional change and decision making processes during the last thirty years, explaining how we think - or how we think about the way we think. The logo is a bit of a divertissement, from the latin divertere that means turn in separate ways.


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Take a sad song and make it better

How to start the design of fair change management processes

How to cite this article?
Longo, Brunella (2020). Take a sad song and make it better. How to start the design of fair change management processes. icm2re [I Changed my Mind Reviewing Everything ISSN 2059-688X (Print)], 9.3 (March). http://www.icm2re.com/2020-3.html

How to cite this article?
Longo, Brunella (2020). Take a sad song and make it better. How to start the design of fair change management processes. icm2re [I Changed my Mind Reviewing Everything ISSN 2059-688X (Online)], 9.3 (March). http://www.icm2re.com/2020-3.html

And anytime you feel the pain
Hey Jude, refrain
Don’t carry the world upon your shoulders
For well you know that it’s a fool
Who plays it cool
By making his world a little colder
John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Hey Jude

London - 25 April 2020. As soon as there were signs of the Covid-19 pandemic in January, and the public health emergency legislation was about to come into force few weeks later in the UK too, I found myself, as many self employed individuals and small businesses owners all around the World, desperately pressurised to give up plans and activities and embroiled in feelings of hopelessness.

It was not just me of course. Everybody was thinking what could be done to overcome the frustration of the inevitable disruptions caused by the pandemic to programmes and projects and daily activities. Sunk costs, as the word says, are losses that cannot be recovered, investments that have just vanished and are totally irrelevant for present and future wealth, success, wellbeing, survival - these are hard to bear even by those who could give lectures on the subject!

Zoom, Slack, bleach and disinfectant and a number of new routines or attempted new routines: everything was suddenly spinning around my diary as a matter of instinctive, personal early response to what will be soon a collective drama. But it took more than one month for my mind and feelings to catch up with what I was doing and understand why I had chosen to do exactly what in preparation for difficult times ahead.

For instance, why did I cancel my streaming video membership exactly when everybody else was about to double their time spent on these services or eventually joining one? I told myself various justifications for such a weird decision including that it is in fact better to save money in time of crisis. And so on. But none of these explanations was true or convincing of course.

The other day, after almost two months since the beginning of this pandemic, when I sent the request for my eyes’ medications on repeated prescription to the usual pharmacy, I realised I have been using more eyes drops and eyes ointment than usual for the last three or four weeks. That is because I did changed activities and patterns of work: for the last two months or so, I have been spending more time reading documents and working in front of smartphones and computers screens than I usually do and my eyes did felt the difference. Conversely, I have never felt I missed a movie or other streaming contents during this period - so …chapeau to my unconscious early decision making process: I have nothing to regret!

If it is true that choosing some changes for our health and wellbeing is sometimes so instinctive and right that we can hardly recognise it as an important cognitive mechanism, it is also true that at organisational level it is hard to get, and at the right time, the same magic decision making dynamics. For these to happen, a fair change management process should or could take over the ordinary, business as usual, activities.

Everybody at the same time needs to overcome the psychological burden of the so called sunk-cost trap and move forward. People at all levels and within all processes must be engaged and willing to go at the same pace in the same direction. It is not impossible at all, but it does require awareness, preparation, skills, scoping, leadership.

The sunk-cost trap gets often in the way of a fair change management process in subtle and unexpected ways. People tend to overreact emotionally or, on the opposite side of the communication spectrum, with an overdose of arguably infallible scientific approaches.

Escaping the sunk-cost trap at all costs!

Another name for sunk costs is “Concorde fallacy” from the case history of the very sad, unfortunate French and British partnership that ended decommissioned in 2003. But was that case only a matter of fate and misfortune? Did they have any change management process in place or did they believe in some sort of super-human nature of their super-innovative project?

Last year, when I was writing about Brexit, the right to vote for the EU Parliament as EU nationals permanent residents in the UK and matters of cold and warm changes, I came across an interesting study promoted and carried forward by consultants with a strong expertise in the field.

The study (Ten Have et al., 2017) systematically looked into a number of strategies that special advisors tend to push forward or talk about with their clients. They wanted to see how really evidence-based or anecdotical they were.

It turned out that much insight we dispense or receive as advice is not only very anecdotal but it often consists of total phantasies people just tend to conform with for all sorts of reasons.

One of the false myths the authors uncovered is that organisational change requires leaders with strong emotional intelligence. The consideration is likely to cause you a sense of disbelief or reluctance if, like me and possibly the majority of the population, you trust our human ability to solve untreatable problems with empathy, compassion, care, creativity - all qualities grounded in emotional intelligence.

I have myself written on the subject, recognised as crucial in dealing also with psychology of scams and cybersecurity (see for instance icm2re 3.1, I do not want your passwords. Can emotional intelligence help with IT requirements?). But I believe it is also evidently true that, especially at critical times, we tend to idealise emotional intelligence within the organisations, and underestimate the importance of processes, accuracy and procedural justice.

If there is a way out of the extraordinary crisis and demand for urgent organisational changes due to the pandemic, this is unlikely to be found consoling each others or clapping to essential workers on Thursdays (thank you very much by the way! as in fact for a number of hours per week compatible with my Sjogren' Syndrome condition I do essential work as housekeeper and cleaner. This makes me able to stay afloat whilst consultancy, writings, project and other types of commissioned work are either unaccessible to me or just impossible due to the circumstances).

Also participation and resistance to change, often considered key variables by directors and experts, turned out to be irrelevant in the mentioned study. Instead, for being resilient during exceptionally hard times and ready to implement a programme of change at pace, organisations need to have a fair change management process in place or the capability for it.

What this special fair change process consists of it may depend on heterogenous factors - like industry, market, size or competences but, to put it in very generic and plain terms, a fair change process is a way of work that embeds procedural justice, acceptance of circumstances, commitment, focussed behaviour and a certain degree of instant forgiveness or... perhaps a certain level of organisational folly! so that past rules do not count anymore, are quickly turned over or just forgotten for the time being.

I loved these findings because they matched my own beliefs and experiences: organisational challenges can be overcome through operational planning, through design of new products, processes or structures, looking at different angles, facets and aspects of things.

A fair change process is, in sum, a space where not only the actuarial but also the psychological sunk costs can be accommodated and dealt with by people and structures.

Much can be and it has been written about procedural justice, how it matters for organisational learning and culture and so on. Also there is plenty of literature and examples and stories about the Concorde fallacy, decommissioned and failed projects many survivors are willing to talk about on social media - it is up to all of us to seek, learn, experiment and enjoy the practicalities and operational challenges of taking the sad song of the pandemic and making it better embracing fair changes.

Needless to say, there is somebody who is very happy about these times of pandemic and sunk-cost traps and it is quite indifferent to the flow of time! It is my dog, immensely enjoying the lockdown.

References

Arkes, H. R., & Ayton, P. (1999). The sunk cost and Concorde effects: Are humans less rational than lower animals? Psychological Bulletin, 125(5), 591–600. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.125.5.591

Soman, D. (2001). The mental accounting of sunk time costs: why time is not like money. J. Behav. Decis. Making, 14: 169-185. doi:10.1002/bdm.370

Ten Have et al. (2017). Reconsidering change management : applying evidence -based insights in change management practice. Routledge. (Studies in organisational change & development).