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Subtitled ‘Learning and Development in Practising Change’ and with a truly awful cover I wasn’t sure what to expect from Participative Transformation.

I should not have had a glass of wine before I started reading it. I don’t even know how many times I read page 2.

However, it did get a lot better, very quickly. The authors, Roger Klev and Morten Levin don’t hold back. “Mundane perspectives are given as much space as well-founded positions,” they write, commenting on change management theories.

They point out that even if you follow the recipe of Jack Welch you will not achieve his success because you are not Jack Welch. Instead, you need to do it your own way.

How To Manage Change Your Own Way

The authors say that it’s better to develop collective reflections as a basic of being able to meet the uncertainties of the future. In other words, you need to work together and build your own vision of change and the future based on your collective wisdom and what is required to get you over the line.

It’s crowd-sourcing for change (although I’m sure they wouldn’t thank me for simplifying it like that).

They stress the importance of problem solving and reflection as part of the continuous learning process: being participative.

People Have To Want To Change

No organization can move to a new way of working without employees being involved, they say. Because individuals need to make sense of the change and develop the skills they need to do the job in the new way.

Change only occurs, they add, through an individual “enacting” change. You can’t mandate change and expect it to be a success because actual change only happens when an individual decides to obey the requirement to change.

Dealing With Resistance To Change

Chapter 6 covers resistance to change and the authors take a really interesting and valid position on that classic, “They don’t want to change” comment.

They point to the fact that saying people don’t want to change is simplistic, especially as everyone will want to have an opinion on what needs to be changed. Klev and Levin write:

“People would rather be in charge of change than be the ones being changed.”

Resistance, they explain, is not a basic human trait but a learned consequence of having to deal with the fallout of plenty of ineffective changes that failed. It’s more of a “Spare me the drama” comment than an “I’m incapable of change” response.

Or it might be that in the past they had no reason to trust management who then went on to go back on their word and make lots of redundancies.

Or because they know the solution is bad but the people implementing the change don’t know that and won’t listen.

Getting To Participative Change

The bottom line is that you need the team to participate in the change in order for it to have any chance of actually happening successfully.

There are lots of techniques for this discussed in the second half of the book. They talk about how to do organizational analysis and there’s a chapter on search conferences.

I was particularly interested in the World Café approach; I hadn’t realized that paper tablecloths could be so beneficial but when people draw on them, it means a lot more than trying to exchange ideas in words.

The authors explain:

“When people write a word down or draw something while they talk, the long monologues disappear. The writings and drawings become a common reference, a kind of map of the discussion. It is easy to see where you have been, and where you want to go. And the map is visible for everyone, like a half structured collective memory for the group.”

They recount the moving story of a community required to change and using the World Café method to do so. Despite not having confidence in the method, the community leaders had the courage to do it anyway and the results were astonishing.

While I probably won’t be using a full World Café any time soon, I can definitely incorporate paper tablecloths to my creative meetings (and children’s coloring sessions, although I don’t want to encourage them to draw on the furniture).

Dealing With Conflict

Change often causes conflict and the authors don’t shy away from that either. They take the approach that often we blame conflict on personality clashes but the causes of conflict go further than that. They write:

“Individual differences do, certainly, contribute to conflict, but they are often exacerbated by context – those role, status, focus or resources constraints that are part of the fabric of organizational life.”

Klev and Levin talk about join problem solving being more effective than creating a competitive environment, and interest-based conflict resolution as a way to overcome some of the challenges of personality and context.

In Summary…

This book is expensive, and I’m grateful to Gower Publishing for sending me a copy for review. If you can get your hands on a copy then it’s worth a read if you are struggling with how to make organizational change work in your business. If you are a university, trainer working on change or a huge employer then you might want to buy it for your library.

I did find it interesting in the end, and I learned something but the price puts me off recommending it for the individual practitioner.

This book review first appeared in 2016.

This article first appeared at Rebel’s Guide to Project Management

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