How symbols and perceptions can derail the best change process

Here’s a great post from McKinsey; a series of interviews with seven great leaders around the world. I was particularly taken with the interview with Moya Greene. Having worked at Royal Mail, I could relate to the challenges she was talking about.   Her interview was very insightful and worth a read. Given the huge transformational change agenda that Moya has, there was one comment that I found particularly useful when considering change management journeys:

Moya Greene: My public-sector experience helped me understand how easily sound policies can be derailed by small, symbolic things. It may not matter that the policy change you are advocating is the product of fantastic analytics or years of brilliant stakeholder management; the tiniest little spark can become a flash fire—something that takes hold and transforms perceptions. If you work in the public sector, you learn the value of developing antennae for popular perceptions and keeping them finely tuned.

Almost always, the work that I do with clients results in a conversation at some point around symbolism and the impact that this can have – either positively or negatively.

This ties in nicely with story telling – as when employees, customers, consumers and other important stakeholders tell their stories of organisations, it is often symbols and perceptions that they are talking about. It can be so simple and yet so powerful.

What symbols have you come across that have either derailed or enhanced a process that you were on, organisationally?

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