A Burning Platform…? Managing Resistance to Change.

1988. The Piper Alpha oil rig explodes in the North Sea. Economically, the explosion cost £1.7bn, in lost revenue and damage. Not to mention the impact on lives lost. It is one of the worst oil and gas industry incidents of all time – a category, it’s safe to say, we all we wish didn’t exist.

The disaster created an unlikely by-product – the business-speak phrase: ‘a burning platform for change’. A rather crass legacy – which probably 99 out of 100 people who use it are unaware of. But the phrase has stuck in our lexicon for a reason.

Time and again business leaders think if their teams are resistant to change, that the only way to effect change in their organisations is to Set Fire To The Damn Platform – and make people jump. Change Management 101. Change done.

Any time where setting something on fire is the ‘answer’ – you’ve really got to start questioning the question.

If the question is: ‘How do we make people change the way they work?’ It’s the wrong question. You’re just setting the fire.

The ‘burning platform for change’ idea should have two readings:

  • We all smell smoke. There’s a fire on the oil rig – people need to get to safety – we show where the lifeboats are.
  • We shout ‘Fire! Fire! Fire!’ and tell everyone to jump: or leave them to work out something for themselves.

In the first scenario, we show people how to get to safety.

In the second scenario, we scare people and order them into sudden action (JUMP!) or leave them to sort it out themselves (either benignly: ‘our people know the best approach’; or negligently: ‘it’s not my job to tell them what to do’). Neither of which is actually helpful once you’ve just screamed ‘FIRE’ in their face.

The first one offers hope and assumes ‘we’re all in this together’. The second ignites fear and assumes no-one knows what’s going on (we’ve had to shout to tell you).

The skinny on all this is simple – we just like an extended metaphor.

Given where we are with Covid-19, Brexit, trade wars and rapid technological change – it’s clear to everyone that businesses are facing multiple external, contextual and societal changes.

We smell the smoke and need to choose how to get people onboard with the essential changes we need to implement. Do you embrace good change management practice or simply shout “FIRE” in their faces?! Providing direction and leading the change proactively will clearly be more effective. A compelling rationale will engage your people and help them commit to jumping to safety with you.

People need leaders who understand the market, can make a realistic assessment of the threats they’re facing as a business, and work through the opportunities. This is your lifeboat.

If you think your team doesn’t understand the need for change – you may have underestimated the human implications that introducing change can create.  We can help you manage resistance to change and embed a sustainable future for your organisation.

Contact EstherM@NineFeetTall.com

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