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Simplicity in Organizational Change; “It’s a gift to be simple…”

Have you ever noticed how hard it is to be simple? Despite years of experience, I still find that creating or making something appear simple is very complex. I first discovered this in my junior year of high school. I was chosen (much to my delight) to teach the audition dance to prospective auditioners for the high school musical (Damn Yankees). Our dedicated director had choreographed a 3-minute dance to be performed as a part of the audition process. I was chosen for this task because I had been a dancer in the musical the previous year, and I had about 12 years of dance experience at that point in my life. It was one of my first teaching roles and I dutifully shared the box step, step ball-change and pivot turn combination to fellow auditioners, the majority of whom did not have dance experience.

“You make it look so simple!” was the cry of frustration I heard from my mentees. I wasn’t sure what they meant at the time but have come to understand that when you have a lot of experience in performing something complex, it can look very simple indeed.

Simplicity often disguises a labyrinth of complexities. What appears straightforward on the surface can quickly reveal challenges and obstacles. Experts have a knack for making the complex seem effortless. From master chefs crafting delicious dishes to software developers writing lines of code, the result often hides the complexity of the process. Similarly, in the realm of organizational change, leaders may present change initiatives as straightforward endeavors, masking the complexities inherent in driving transformation.

Using a structured approach such as the R.E.A.D.Y. framework provides guidance for organizations embarking on the journey of change. The R.E.A.D.Y. framework with its focus on crafting a relevant narrative, engaging leaders, advancing communication, developing individuals & support systems, and understanding the "why" behind change, offers a structured approach to navigate the complexities of organizational transformation.

If I had applied the R.E.A.D.Y. framework during my audition dance teaching process, I’m sure that the simplicity of the framework could have made learning the dance easier for the auditionees to adopt.

R- Relevant and Relatable Story of Change:

Crafting a compelling narrative lies at the heart of driving organizational change. However, the process of developing a story that resonates with diverse stakeholders is anything but simple. Had I been able to create a relevant and relatable story about the short dance routine, it may have helped my peers recall the overall goal of the dance and not get stuck thinking about individual steps.

E - Engaging Leaders

Leaders are a critical success factor in driving change. Yet, the task of mobilizing leaders to champion the initiative is fraught with challenges. In my example, our director had to delegate the teaching and rehearsing of the audition dance so that she could watch individual auditions. If I’d been using the R.E.A.D.Y. framework I would have had her lead the practice dance before the group audition, to ensure the auditioners were able to see her interpretation of the dance. Engaging with the leader would help auditioners as they could see their leader was committed to demonstrating the dance and was putting herself in their shoes.

A - Advance Communication:

Effective communication is the lifeblood of change management. However, achieving clarity and consistency in communication across diverse channels and stakeholders is no easy feat. Misinterpretations, rumors, and information gaps can quickly derail even the most well-intentioned change initiatives. Had I been using the R.E.A.D.Y. framework back in high school I would have created communication about the musical auditions which would outline the process provide a list of actions that were required for the audition such as, reading a portion of the script in a scene, singing a short song, learning, and performing a dance routine as part of a small group. Communicating expectations would have provided clarity and prepared the hopeful cast members to wear appropriate clothing and footwear for dancing.

D - Develop and Support:

Supporting employees through change is essential to fostering adoption and reducing resistance. Providing training and resources is just the tip of the iceberg. Addressing underlying fears, concerns, and psychological barriers requires a nuanced approach. As the high school musical audition dance coach, I was able to observe the impact of training and support on those non-dancers who were learning the dance. Providing opportunities to train and practice what they had learned was important to those desiring a part. As a form of support the auditioners received immediate feedback and communication both from the mirror and from myself in the role of dance coach.

Y – “Why of Change” to reduce resistance:

Understanding the "why" behind change is fundamental to reducing resistance and building buy-in. Resistance to change is deeply ingrained in human psychology. Many times, resistance is rooted in fear of the unknown. Overcoming psychological barriers requires empathy, patience, and persistence in addition to revisiting the relatable story of change and the goals of the individual. Recognizing the resistance of my high school colleagues as being based in fear and discomfort could have provided relief to them in their pursuit of a role and could also have been addressed with “mock auditions” a week or two before the pressure of the real deal. As I watched my fellow students perform their dance routine with great pride, I started to see what they meant about simplicity. Those dancers who were either experienced, naturally gifted, or well-practiced were easier to watch. Their movements were clear and precise, they moved with an efficiency and ease that seemed simple. Those who struggled seemed to have complicated movements and never seemed quite on time with the music.

Have you applied the R.E.A.D.Y. framework to a change? How have you made change simple? By embracing frameworks such as R.E.A.D.Y. and acknowledging the complexities of change management, organizations can increase their likelihood of success in performing the dance of change.

Recognized as one of the Top 30 Global Guru’s in Organizational Culture both in 2021 & 2022, April is an internationally known organizational change management expert who has implemented change for government, health care, higher education and corporate clients. April is the author of four books including the bestsellers “READY, Set, Change! Simplify and Accelerate Organizational Change” and “READY, Set, CCMP™ Exam Prep Guide".  Contact her at [email protected]