June 25 2012
I was recently thinking about fairy tales, legends and other
fantasy type stories. It crossed my mind that not only is the rule
of three very evident within their content time and again, but there
are parallels from their content with change management experience –
no surprises there then!
So what do the three little pigs, goats gruff or even musketeers tell you about leading change. Well let's consider the little pigs first. I hope you know enough of the story but to recap - 3 pigs build 3 houses after their mother has sent them out into the world. One house gets made of straw, one of sticks and one of bricks. Big bad wolf huffs and puffs and blows down the first two houses but fails on the final house. The wolf then tries to climb in through the chimney but the pigs put a boiling pot over a fire and he either gets boiled or burned and depending on if your Disney or darker the wolf is scared off or killed by this.
So the 3 houses made me think of the way people take change. Sometimes they build barriers to accept or even listen. But with some effort these barriers can be broken down. However I have had that experience where one group seem to be inboard only to connect with another group with harder resolve to the change. Eventually they get caught up with a group with such hardened resilience there is no changing them. You then look to a different route into the group only to find yourself heavily scorned and having to run away and either totally regroup or abandon plans. Not a good outcome! Of course they key here is perception as the big bad wolf. This happens when you go to the people as their enemy with evil grins and ulterior motives. Let yourself be seen as the big bad wolf and you won’t get very far, but to use another wolf based fairy tale, try being more red-riding hood!
So what about the Billy goats gruff? The story here is about 3 goats that need to change where they currently pasture and move to a new and better meadow. To get there they have to cross a bridge where an evil troll lives. Each one goes to cross the bridge but persuades him that the next goat is bigger and better and he should wait for them. When the third and largest goat arrives on the bridge, he is so big that he tosses the troll over the bridge and is never seen again.
Where does this connect to change management you may ask? I see this as demonstrating the power of clever communications. As you go to make each change, if you can get adoption and acceptance on a smaller scale, then increasing it with each new communications works well. The audience is keen to hear more information and are often open to being convinced that letting this change happen is worth it and to save any challenges for the next one. Eventually, the size and value of the change communications is so great it can have energy of its own to achieve acceptance. Many stakeholder communication plans have this principle at their heart. If you engage little by little with the stakeholder, when you need to make the big move, they are already sufficiently on board with the smaller changes that it’s not such a big leap to the final large change needed. So perhaps the change manager is more of a goat here, and the troll is the evil organization resisting change. The goats carry a message that convinces the troll to accept each movement because the next one will reward their motives better. When he gets to the third goat, it’s too big for him to deal with and he gets pushed aside. Now I don’t recommend pushing aside the audience, but the audience for your change communications will have to run with the change if you build up to it in the right way. I also think there is something in this tale that relates to organizational culture, but that is probably a conversation for another blog post.
AS for the 3 musketeers, well the motto of one for all and all for one, with the combination of multiple skill sets overlaps with team building, leadership and all elements of organizational development. Am sure there is more to this, perhaps you have some thoughts?