Here’s a case study in managing change.
Suppose you are working on a long-term and complicated project with a big team of more than 25 people. You all have a broad understanding about the direction of travel, but within the team there are several, not necessarily compatible, perspectives on the overall aim and how to get there. Your colleagues have a range of skills and experience, and some pretty entrenched views too. Your predecessors signed up to your involvement some time ago.
The project, as projects do, has a number of fairly intractable issues, and serious inefficiencies have crept in over the years as the team got bigger and bigger. Every now and then you all have to sit down and re-think how you go about your activities. But it’s come to the point where people in your home organisation are saying it’s all too disadvantageous and it’s time to cut your losses and leave. You have to keep these influential people sweet, but you also acknowledge that there are others in your organisation who hold the opposite view just as strongly.
How to respond?
a) give up and go home – thereby losing all the benefits of being in the team in order to gain unspecified advantages through dissociating yourself from the project;
b) stay, make your own entrenched view known and make it clear that you are never going to change this position – it’s not you, it’s them – and hope that (i) the naysayers back home don’t give you too much grief, and (ii) the ensuing stalemate is not entirely detrimental to everyone’s interests;
c) stay, find out more about what your colleagues really think; look for the common ground that’s in everyone’s interest; build alliances and seek out an approach that meets some of everyone’s needs but expects everyone to give something up too; and
d) … get stuck in to streamlining that overblown bureaucracy.
Answers on a post card please, direct to 10 Downing Street, London SW1.
For the next five years the UK public faces the enticing prospect of protracted membership negotiations with our 26 partners in the European Union – or not, I suppose, if they decide not to bother negotiating with us. The Prime Minister has promised a referendum on the results of the negotiations, in other words we’ll get to vote on whether we want to be part of the EU on the agreed new terms. In the meantime we will be subjected to an awful lot of pontificating from all sides in the debate. And even then the question will not be ‘settled’ because whatever the outcome, a large proportion of the population will be unhappy about it.
Quite apart from the eccentricity of this approach to negotiating – the Eurosceptics will say ‘give us more powers back or we’ll vote against’, and the pro-Europeans will say ‘be more committed or we’ll vote against’ so the government can’t guarantee that it will deliver a vote in favour of the new terms, which means they are not in a position to agree terms anyway – how on earth are we the general public supposed to know enough about it to make an informed decision? Statistics, polls and the finer points of EU treaties and legislation will be quoted at us like passages from the Bible, all out of context and less than enlightening. People will just vote on the basis of their instinctive reaction, or faith, as it were.
Already it’s known as an ‘In/Out’ referendum, a phrase which cannot fail to conjure up the image of 27 eurocrats in a solemn circle dancing to the 1940’s song …
‘In, out, in out,
You shake it all about,
You do the hokey cokey and you turn around,
That’s what it’s all about.’
Or else we’ll be like our cat, who makes a big fuss to be let out if he’s indoors, and after five minutes outside is banging on the back door and meowing to come back into the kitchen. Wherever he ends up, clearly he always thinks he’d be better off on the other side.