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A Change Story: The Hare and the Tortoise

It’s all change in Animal Land. The Hare has been nominated as the internal change champion. The boss, the Lion, has plans – BIG plans. “You’re a pretty action orientated kinda’ guy” says the Lion, “I know you can make it happen”. That’s it, the Hare is off and running. Consultation, focus groups, change T-shirts proclaiming ‘Just Nike It’.

While most of the animals are working to keep up, putting in extra training, finding solutions to the problems on the change journey, the Tortoise is a different case all together.

“S’ok for you” Tortoise moans to the Hare; “you’ve got long legs & a spring to yer’ step, I’ve got short stumpy legs. You get fed carrots, I survive on lettuce leaves. It’s all an uphill course, put some downhill & rest periods into the course”. … “do it another way, this won’t work, I can’t, I can’t…..” and so the Tortoise goes on.

Sound familiar? It’s much the same for organisations undergoing change. Often I get to work with teams that are wrestling with new ways of working. Using the Hare & the Tortoise, this is what the Manager hears

Hare: “Can’t say I like the new way fully yet, but at least I’m trying, I know it’ll get easier. It’s the Tortoise who is frustrating the heck out of me. He’s avoiding the new stuff, cherry picking, bagging new ideas. I thought he’d started to give it a go recently but he’s gone backwards again. It’s causing us problems and I have to pick up the slack”.

Tortoise: “This new stuff isn’t going to work, I gave it a go but it didn’t work. I need more training; perhaps the Hedgehog can do that part of the job . I’m a reflective sort of guy… not like the Hare who rushes into things without thinking; I told you this wouldn’t work, you need to go back to the drawing board”.

What’s going on here? Personality , ability and mindset could be some of the problem. That’s what a lot of leaders assume when they’re trying to figure out the source of the problem. It could also be that our furry (& wrinkly) friends are at different points on the change journey.

When I’m working with teams that I’m told are experiencing conflict, “they’re six months into the new model of working, they should have got it by now” I often use the Kübler Ross ‘Grief’ model (see below) to help them , and me, to understand what’s going on for them.

Kubler Ross Grief Cycle

Whilst the Hare appears to be at the ‘Acceptance’ stage the Tortoise is flicking between ‘Bargaining’ and ‘Testing’ stages . This difference in behaviour causes the two to move further apart in turn leading to conflict. I often see the light bulb go on as people realize that these stages of emotional response are normal. Once they and others around them are aware of it they can do something about managing the response. Often people will say “yes, that’s how I’m feeling and that’s ok”. I put it to them that :

  • Change is situational and external
  • Transition involves psychological reorientation, this is internal
  • It’s the transition that affects us, not the change
  • We don’t resist changes, we resist transitions
  • It’s our emotional response that can get in the way

When I get people to reflect back on the change they have experienced in their lives, it’s the transition, the feelings and emotional response they talk about. People transition differently. They don’t all move conveniently through the stages. Some people leap forward, others can move forward and backward through the stages. Sometimes they get stuck at a stage. This can be confusing for people around them. To help the transition journey I use coaching questions such as:

  • Which of your current challenges may begin to be resolved as part of the change?
  • What positive improvements may result from the successful implementation of the change, for you and for other people?
  • How can your concerns about the change be resolved or mitigated?
  • What are the next steps that you could take to move forward?
  • What support do you need from me and your colleagues?

We all see things differently. Often when you dig deep enough you find that at the root of the problem is Fear. Fear that they can’t do the job; Fear that they will fail; Fear that somebody else will be affected if they stuff up. More often than not the person doesn’t front up with this. They mask it with Bargaining behaviour which is interepreted as …. Resistance. Ok, so they are resisting, but find the source of the underlying concern and you can start to identify solutions. Listening, questioning, patience and empathy are core skills and attributes here. Understanding their individual learning and thinking style helps to inform how they like to receive and process information.

So, back to the Tortoise and the Hare. Tortoise is having a whinge with his buddy, Thumper, the Rabbit. Now Thumper , normally an amenable Rabbit known for his Thumperian principle of “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all”, is getting tired of having his ears burnt. This time he lets Tortoise have it straight; “Quit gripin’” says Thumper. “Seems to me you have two options buddy, do nuttin’ or do somethin’ … change ‘yer attitude”. “Amen, to that” said the Owl, wisely, as he stuck his head back under his wing.

So the Tortoise did something. He scooted round on and found the perfect solution. The Firebolt broom made famous by some young wizard named Harry Potter. The selling points ….’0 to 200km in 5 seconds …… fully charged gives 5 days flying under normal operating parameters’. That did it. Armed with the top of the range model and a solar powered battery pack, Tortoise is now flying high and circumnavigating the globe. “Whoo hooo…. Eat dirt..” shouted the Tortoise to the Hare as he executed a perfect double loop and singed the tail of a Hyena sniggering at Hare. With an apology to Hyena, Tortoise made a mental note to get to grips with this “altitude thing”.

Not everybody in Animal Land was as enthused. “Who authorized that expenditure, it wasn’t in the change plan” roared the Lion. “What change plan?” said the Hare. The Owl hooted, “oh my, oh my… who’d have believed it?”. Thumper said “that’s ma boy…. that coaching stuff that the young fawn, Faline, in HR taught me darn worked”.

So alls well that ends well. Or is it? There’s one small problem. You see, nobody told Tortoise how to land. In change terms they call that ‘uninformed optimism’. If you see the Tortoise throw him a net or tell him to scroll through to Menu & hit Soft Landing. Thanks.

With grateful thanks to Tortoise, Hare, Lion, Thumper, Owl and Faline for sharing their change story with us.

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