Change Management: Part 1: Don’t Bump The Fish Bowl
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Change Management: Part 1: Don’t Bump The Fish Bowl

Cory Godwin, Director of Jail Operations,Walton County Sheriff's Office
Cory Godwin, Director of Jail Operations,Walton County Sheriff's Office

Cory Godwin, Director of Jail Operations,Walton County Sheriff's Office

Change is a fundamental part of every organization and is how we grow and evolve to be more successful. Effectively deploying change management can help employees achieve a common goal, promote teamwork, and advance the organization as a whole when done systematically. Change that is not managed can paralyze an organization and negatively impact the humans who do the work.

When you view your organization as an ecosystem where humans interact and essentially live out their workday and life, it provides useful insight on how unintended negative consequences can result in our failure to properly introduce change. For a moment, imagine your organization as a fishbowl, and the various accessories (plants, decorations, rocks, etc.) as the operational processes and resources you use to accomplish your work. While it is often necessary to clean the bowl, replace accessories, or even relocate the various pieces, we always want to be mindful of the fish (team members). A wise mentor once warned “don’t bump the fishbowl.”

When a goldfish bowl gets bumped, the fish are NOT happy. They scurry behind the fake plants (or the plastic castle) and huddle together in fear. Their world has been shaken (literally). They don’t know what’s coming next. They are unable to go about their business anymore – they can only huddle, and watch, and wait.

Leaders bump their employee’s fishbowls all the time! Leaders may not intend to disrupt employee’s work lives, but actions such as these do “bump the fishbowl”:

• Announce changes but provide no context and no opportunity for questions

• Make structural or staffing changes with no context and no opportunity for questions

• Take credit for team or team members’ ideas, efforts, or accomplishments

• Micromanage – attempt to control how team members do the work, even if team members are more skilled at the work than the leader is

• Provide frequent critical and negative feedback; rarely validate team members’ efforts or accomplishments

While it is often necessary to gently, methodically, and purposefully alter the ecosystem, avoid rushing to plunge your hand into the bowl to grab the pieces and move or remove them quickly to get to your desired outcome. What happens when team members have their fishbowl bumped? Typically, they scurry around and huddle together in fear. Their world has been shaken. Few are able to go about their business anymore – they huddle, and watch, and wait.

Change is constant. Leaders don’t need to insulate their team from change, but they need to reduce the negative impact of change. So, how can leaders keep from “bumping the fishbowl?”

1. Plan. Map out a strategy – then explain the strategy. Be open and honest, consistently. Help team members understand what the issues, problems, or gaps are that need to be addressed. Tell them what you’re thinking of doing to resolve these issues.

2. Listen. Ask for their ideas and insights. Incorporate their good ideas. Reiterate that these changes are to address identified gaps and problems – and stress how their ideas are being embraced.

3. Over-communicate. Always explain the “why” behind the change and do so through multiple communication channels to ensure everyone understands the leader’s rationale for the change.

4. Implement and Adapt. Put plans into place and engage team members to learn if there is any unintentional “bumping” going on. Adapt the plan to gain the most benefit for everyone – team members, company, and customers.

In the end, change is inevitable so we might as well prepare to implement it effectively and in a manner that inspires and promotes growth among the wonderful people who perform the work. In part two of this Change Management series we will consider the role of “influencers” in any effort to introduce change.

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