Over warm cups of coffee, we discussed the many challenges before the nation as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and other major changes and redesigns were taking place. The three of us agreed that in order to be successful given these changes, organizations would need to be more integrated, accountable and have a higher degree of transparency. Furthermore, there would need to be greater cooperation and coordination among key stakeholders from many different systems.
However, during a pause in the conversation, one of the people stated that “the master is the one who pays the bills.” We all just sat there for a moment and realized that this was true. Whomever controlled the flow of the money, controlled the whole system.
While this may be a “blinding flash of the obvious,” referencing a Tom Peter’s term from long ago, it was, at the time, a valuable insight. For if the “master” is focused on outcomes and results, then everyone will move in one specific direction. However, if on the other hand, the “master” is focused on compliance, then everyone will move in a different direction.
Our challenge as leaders is to clarify our intent when communicating about organizational change, and to remember that people think their way through the world of change and feel their way through the world of change. If compliance is the major focus and it is based on fear, then creativity will rarely arise. As Margaret Wheatley pointed out in her extremely thought-provoking book, So Far From Home: lost and found in our brave new world, Berrett-Koehler, 2012, “... compliance-enforcing behaviors only lead in one direction - to demotivated, demoralized, disaffected, and disappearing workers and colleagues.”
With continued uncertainty on the horizon in 2014, now is the time to focus on constant and compassionate communication. We must let people know we are listening to them as they think and feel their way through the world of change. This will require a tremendous effort on our part as leaders and yet it will make a significant difference as we move together through the rest of 2014.