Is change management just one big party game?

The challenges of defining and implementing essential and lasting change into organisations, and in particular health sector organisations, are large and vast. Those involved in change management have no doubt encountered the elephant in the room, when discussing how to meet new corporate objectives, driven by new government policy.

Now that we have entered the tranquil calm that is pre-election purdah (or is it just the silly season?), over the summer holidays, I’ve been reflecting lately on a few children’s party games and the similarities to change management.

One in particular springs to mind; pinning the tail on the donkey. And actually, it’s not so much a donkey, but more of a mule, as I believe that they are reputed to have the edge over donkeys when it comes to demonstrating a stubborn streak, though the phrase “as stubborn as an organisation” doesn’t really grab the imagination or create a compelling visual.

In previous roles, I have spent a large amount of time undertaking similar change management in financial services. I’ve seen many people hemorrhaging cash as they try to fix what they could easily have been done right in the first place if they had taken the time to talk to those in the organisation who are more in tune with what needed to be done. It’s like trying to deliver effective and efficient change management blindfolded; it doesn’t work and results in donkey’s tails being placed in every place but the right one!

In healthcare organisations, the severity of not getting change management right can quite literally be life or death. These organisations are socially and personally relevant and deliver something extremely valuable that most of us want when we need it.

I have two main concerns regarding the startlingly large change challenge now confronting UK healthcare organisations. The first is that, in my experience at least, most of the hard working and committed people I know are currently working so hard, that there is no time for measured reflection to properly plan and deliver the structured activity that could achieve the desired business outcome, possibly with less pain. The demands being made mean that it is ‘activity’ that is all important, which is ideal territory in which to emulate the mistakes outlined in the banking scenario I mentioned earlier.

The second is that the oppressed healthcare staff have to do this whilst the political parties are enthusiastically mobilising another game of musical chairs. On top of this, healthcare providers are trying to implement and abide by the many initiatives that they are striving to deliver, such as joint commissioning and integration with local government.

There is however a chink of light down the tunnel – could it be that if we do genuinely achieve the relative nirvana of pre-election purdah, somebody sensible will either switch off the music for a decent period, or at least stop stealing the chairs?

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