Forget BAU – Welcome to CAU!

Kurt Lewin, one of the forefathers of change management, is well-known for his three-phased process of Unfreeze – Change – Refreeze. Although originally developed in the late 1940s, it has been an often quoted change model as the three phases demonstrate quite clearly the stages of change: Getting ready and understanding the need for the change (unfreezing the current state), moving towards the desired behaviours (changing the form) and then finally solidifying those new behaviours as the norm (refreezing). (Although there is apparently no evidence to show Lewin actually developed this model).

However, in our experience, change is now so constant, that there is not enough time to ensure the refreeze has fully taken place, to return to Business as Usual (BAU). What we’re seeing more and more is that organisations are living in a world of slush as they move from one change to the next – a world of Change as Usual (CAU). If you’re not prepared for slush – and depending on its consistency – it can either be extremely hard-going and slippery or it is very messy and you end up with wet feet!

Prosci’s Best Practices in Change Management 2018 found that 55% of participants expected a significant increase in the amount of change occurring in their organisations – compared to 36% in the 2016 edition. In addition, 73% of participants stated they were either close to, at, or past the point of saturation. And unfortunately for Australia and New Zealand, we were above the average at 80%.

So, what can organisations do to better prepare themselves and their people for this new CAU? Here are just a few of our ideas:

Build change muscle and accountability
The Harvard Business Review (HBR) published an article in 2017, All Management is Change Management which stated that:

Leaders should view change not as an occasional disruptor, but as the very essence of the management job’

If that’s the case, surely managing or leading change should be in every manager/leader’s position description? And yet, we never cease to be amazed by the number of organisations we deal with whose managers (and sometimes even leaders) don’t have that in their position descriptions or as one of their KPIs. In fact, in writing this article, we did a search on SEEK of Chief Executive roles in Australia and found there were 753 current jobs. However, when the additional filter of ‘change’ was added, the list reduced to 155, which equates to about 20%.  The results were similar when the search was then done for Managers – 65, 319 jobs advertised of which 12,577 included change in them (about 19%).

If managing or leading change is seen as an additional task outside of their ‘normal’ role, no wonder so many managers hesitate or are unwilling to step up. This becomes even more exacerbated, when there is no budget for, or time spent, upskilling managers and leaders to know how to lead/manage through change. Competence breeds confidence – when we know how to lead change and have been provided with support to develop and maintain those skills, then we start to build change muscle. The more we exercise those muscles, the better we get and the easier it becomes.

And as the same HBR article put it, by making managers responsible:

they develop the capacity to lead continual change while their people develop the capacity to implement it.’

Competence + confidence + capacity = resilience – which is something all organisations need in their staff in the new CAU.

Better prioritisation
Does your organisation strategically plan, align and prioritise its changes to its vision? Or does it seem to be constantly (over)reacting? In times of constant change, organisations need to have a stable reference point, a true north, to refer to and this should be its vision.

When employees can’t see why a change is important, or where there is no clear link to the vision/strategic goals, then it’s going to be really hard to get them engaged. We heard last week about a CEO who claimed that his organisation of just over 400 staff had 160+ priorities. When challenged by the change consultant working with him that that was impossible, the CEO revised the figure saying probably only 70 or so of them were top priorities!  No wonder change saturation, fatigue and cynicism were occurring…

To show how both capability and prioritisation are important, let us use the analogy of flying. When we board a plane as a passenger, we trust that the pilot and the air traffic controllers can not only get us safely into the air, but also have the skills to land the plane safely. However, how often do we launch changes without really considering how and when we are going to land them? In addition, how often do we see new ‘change’ pilots being told to fly a large plane long distances when they haven’t even mastered the controls in the training cockpit?

Acknowledge and celebrate often
Last but definitely not least, organisations need to take the time to acknowledge and celebrate regularly – little wins/little drops along the way, not just major milestones. In acknowledging the work that has been done and recognising those who are contributing, people can see the progress that is being made and feel a sense of achievement.

Peter Sims in his book ‘Little Bets’ encourages leaders to:

empower employees to act on the change as soon as possible and reward short term wins in order to celebrate changes and apply positive reinforcement’

This positive reinforcement in turn provides opportunities to provide open feedback, foster trust, reduce change fatigue and build momentum as others who may not already be actively engaged choose to come on board.

What is clear is that continual change is here to stay. As Dr Gregory Shea and Cassie Solomon stated in Leading Successful Change:

The times are not just a-changin’. Our era is dominated by the reality that change is constant’

So, what will you do to help your organisation cope with the new CAU?


We’re working on different ideas, telling a different story, and getting radically different outcomes than what others usually see.