(Vermilion, £5.99, 1999)(This is the third in a regular series reviewing books outside of the realm of education, and looking at the impact they could have in a learning environment.)
An Amazing Way to Deal With Change In Your Work and in Your Life
In terms of big sales, this business book is enormous. I was given it by a previous boss, who had bought all the staff it en masse. I quickly looked it up on Wikipedia, and immediately was drawn to the following:
Some managers are known to mass-distribute copies of the book to employees, some of whom see this as an insult, or an attempt to characterize dissent as not “moving with the cheese”. In the corporate environment, management has been known to distribute this book to employees during times of “structural re-organization,” or during cost-cutting measures, in an attempt to portray unfavorable or unfair changes in an optimistic or opportunistic way. This misuse of the book’s message is seen by some as an attempt by organizational management to make employees quickly and unconditionally assimilate management ideals, even if they may prove detrimental to them professionally. Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams claims that patronizing parables are one of the top 10 complaints he receives in his email.
This was indeed the case with my boss, who in every other way was inspirational. This book however will make you want to weep with derision, such is the patronising manner of what is a very simple concept to grasp. So simple in fact, it could be told on a beer mat. The trouble with beermats is however that they are trickier to sell many millions. Instead, you might want to do what Dr Spencer has done here and write a slim volume, which is a story within a story. We meet some lovely, wholesome people, just like you or I, and over the course of a colossal 73 pages, describe a tale where some mice have run out of their favourite cheese. Two mice react differently, one waiting for their old cheese, the other goes off, seeking new cheese.
If you haven’t detected it yet, I am rather cynical toward this book. The message of ‘change happens, deal with it’ may have had a warmer response in a previous, perhaps American, climate, but I found the read to be akin to watching a very badly-acted play. The link to buy the book, as ever is below, but to save you the money and trouble, here is the central message again: ‘Change happens. Deal with it.’
The Management Angle
One of the trickiest aspects for any member of management is that they are responsible for implementing change. This involves braking the norm, introducing or removing tasks or incentives, and altering things that have always ‘just worked.’ This in itself isn’t so much the difficulty so much as convincing those who need to change of that need. Buying this book will not help matters.
Two convincing leads toward managing change successfully are to indicate a benefit. While this may be challenging, especially in times of austerity, any benefit in saving time, effort or money is often warmly welcomed. The difficulty with this is that there are introductions made which never have these benefits – the ‘sell’ is far harder here. To convince them of the greater good is one perspective – to have all the staff on board with the mission, values and development plan something else. Isolation leads so quickly to indifference and resentment. Change is most effective when we all feel ownership.
The Teacher Angle
There just aren’t enough hours in the day, and then another thing comes along, trying to fill the spare thirty seconds you had just clawed back from another activity. The main difficulty with change as a teacher is that it often seems like an addition rather than an adjustment – and it needs to be accommodated. Added to that are new members of SMT, keen to make their mark by implementing new changes.
This of course can’t actually be true. Given time, changes settle into a comfortable groove of either happening if useful, or fading out if not. It is far better instead to rationalise new initiatives by giving them a chance, safe in the knowledge that if they are good, they will stick around, and might even make your job that little bit easier.
The Pupil Angle
Pupils seem the most content to change of all the members of a learning group. Their lives are governed by regularity and timetables, so change is welcomed, desired in fact. ‘A change will do them good’, ‘a different voice always helps’, ‘we’re going to do something different today’; all these phrases come about because change helps to kickstart thinking and learning. Why do we end up fearing or feeling uncomfortable about change then? This is a question with no real answer, similar to ‘why do children laugh more than adults’ – there is no definitive, but it is a real shame that there isn’t. Pupils, especially children, embrace change and view something different as an adventure. On the subject of change, the pupils are the experts.
“One of the most successful business books ever”
What was the last big change you feared at work? How did it turn out in the end?