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3 Lessons On Change Management From The Stories Of Alan Kurdi, Alexis Tsipras And COP21

07/01/2016 8:21 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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ASIT KUMAR via Getty Images
RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE, MANDATORY MENTION OF THE ARTIST UPON PUBLICATION, TO ILLUSTRATE THE EVENT AS SPECIFIED IN THE CAPTION Indian artist Sudarsan Pattnaik works on a sand sculpture depicting drowned Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi at Puri beach, some 65 kilometers away from Bhubaneswar, on September 4, 2015. Charities helping refugees saw a surge in donations on September 4 across Europe as people shocked by the heart-rending images of a drowned Syrian boy on a Turkish beach dug deep to help out. The photos of the lifeless body of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, lying on a beach in Bodrum, Turkey, have triggered a wave of emotion across the continent, despite deep divisions among European governments on how to deal with the crisis. AFP PHOTO/ASIT KUMAR (Photo credit should read ASIT KUMAR/AFP/Getty Images)

The past year was filled with stories and insights on passion, persistence, perseverance, the human spirit, leadership and more. Here, I want to focus on three events that gave us interesting lessons on change management and can serve as powerful examples for business organisations.

The image of Alan Kurdi and the power of visceral connection

This was probably the most saddening picture of 2015. I am sure everyone who saw it must have been heartbroken and realised how dangerous the world is today. The picture the three-year-old Syrian boy, who drowned with his brother and mother when their boat capsized in the Mediterranean Sea, became a symbol of the extent of the refugee crisis. While the world was aware of the problem, this picture made a visceral impact. All of us have been seeing the extent of damage in Syria on TV but seeing a cute little boy being swept aside to the Turkish shore connected to all our senses, awakened us.

Anyone seeing the picture [of Alan Kurdi] can almost feel the tragedy and would like to do something about it.

Not surprisingly many world leaders reacted sharply to this event. Leaders such as French President Francois Hollande, British PM David Cameron, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny and many others voiced that a lot more needs to be done for these refugees. The image brought focus and sense of urgency to this problem. And countries in Europe, US, Canada took a series of measures to help to settle these migrants.

So how does it connect to change management?

If you are trying to change or improve something in your organisation and wondering where to start, look for events which communicate a sense of urgency to all your employees. See how the need for change can be connected with the senses of all so that they come on board and willingly participate in the effort.

Look at the image of lifeless Alan Kurdi -- it is very different from what we had earlier seen of the Syrian war. It juxtaposes two contrasting moods. On one side, there is the desolate figure of the prone child on the beach and on the other there is this bright background of lovely blue serene Mediterranean waters. The contrast of mood accentuates the pain in the image and stimulates our five senses. Anyone seeing the picture can almost feel the tragedy and would like to do something about it.

CEOs, business leaders and change agents keen on driving change should use impactful images to drive engagement on a change effort. For example, an organisation facing major customer issues may decide to embark on a customer performance improvement program. To get employees on board it could use real videos of irate customers which are played across length and breadth of the firm.

CEOs, business leaders and change agents keen on driving change should use impactful images to drive engagement on a change effort.

Don't we remember the images of the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011 and how the event and triggered a debate on usage of nuclear power and created sense of urgency among nations to reduce its dependence on it? The images of Fukushima triggered actions such as Germany deciding to phase out of nuclear power by 2022, France deciding to reduce its share of nuclear power from 75% to 50% by 2025 and Italy deciding a target of 25% of electric generation from nuclear power by 2030.

COP21 and the art of stakeholder engagement

When United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) began in Paris on 30 November, 2015, there was scepticism that it may not achieve its desired objective. Imagine 195 nations coming together, with varying agendas (especially between developing and developed countries) and with memories still fresh of the failed Copenhagen climate change talks of 2009. Not to forget the Paris terror attack, which put a question mark on whether the talks would happen at all. Did we not read reports about how countries like China and India were not coming to the party?

However, the doubting Thomases were proved wrong.

A historic agreement was reached on December 12, 2015, with an aim to curb global temperature rise to below 2°C this century. While this has been hailed as a diplomatic success, I look at as a brilliant example of influencing stakeholders for a change effort. I think this was one of those rare events where participating countries spoke openly, challenged each other, yet never lost focus of the large objective. As was reported in the Guardian, innovative approaches were used to engage all participating members. This included engagement vehicles such as "confessional" (confidential spaces wherein delegates could speak from their heart), "informal-informals" (small group of delegates were tasked to solve a problem) or "indabas" (groups of up to 80 thrashed out disagreements). Not surprisingly this event was awarded ISO 20121 certification for the effectiveness of the processes followed to get desired outcome.

While [the Paris climate deal] has been hailed as a diplomatic success, I look at as a brilliant example of influencing stakeholders for a change effort.

When you are about to begin a change transformation in a business organisation, it's a must to have a shared agreement on the objective. All relevant stakeholders need to be brought on board. This requires political competence and understanding who is with you, who is not with you and what is it that is stopping them from coming on board. What COP21 teaches us is that all stakeholders are different and a one-size-fits-all strategy to engage them may not work. Various approaches have to be used to engage them. Also, provide stakeholders an opportunity to gracefully unwind their position without causing a loss of face. Without this alignment, embarking on deployment is useless,

Putting leadership on the line -- the Alexis Tsipras way

We all know Greece has been going through a financial crisis. In 2015, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras negotiated the third international bailout, which included severe austerity measures, with other European leaders. However, this resulted in a rebellion in his Syriza party, as the hardliners were furious of him agreeing on austerity measures, which he had promised to get rid of when he got elected in January 2015. When he realised he wouldn't have support from his party, he decided to resign and go for snap elections, only to ensure his Syriza party got a full majority in September 2015. By going for re-election he put his leadership on the line knowing fully knowing well he could lose power.

Make sure the CEO and board support your effort and give you complete authority to do things which could be unpalatable -- such as the austerity measures in Greece.

This provides a great lesson in change management. If you are entrusted with a change effort in a business organisation don't take its ownership until you have complete mandate to change things. Make sure the CEO and board support your effort and give you complete authority to do things which could be unpalatable -- such as the austerity measures in Greece.

Before she became the CEO of Xerox, Ursula Burns (read her entire success story here) played a significant role in turning around the company which was in heavy debt in 2000. She was entrusted with the part of the turnaround effort that included changing the way the company manufactured its products. To make this possible, she had a complete mandate of then CEO Anne Mulcahy. The change endeavour had moves which were unpalatable, which included outsourcing company's manufacturing. This was not easy as it required reducing the number of employees which she made possible by working with the union. The free hand given to her by the CEO and her determination made things possible and by 2004 the company had turned into black and the headcount had reduced from 100,000 to 55,000.

Burns could have easily left the company in 2000 when it was not doing well. But she put her career on the line and led the change transformation of Xerox.

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