Managing Change – By Analysis of Rituals

By Hans Bool

Rituals are an easy target when dealing with change; they are visible and provide an extra example of how the organization works. Therefore when including the analysis of rituals in a change program you will gain an extra source of control to manage the change.

But what are rituals? Let’s have a look at television. Series on television can be quite real. Like this scene from Dr. Gregory House in which Chase and Cameron are working together in the laboratory. In the middle of a professional conversation, Chase starts about a personal topic:
“Today is Tuesday… I’m reminding you that I like you … and that I’ll be there for you…” On every Tuesday, Chase approaches Cameron with this ritual since she rejected his suggestion to start a “real” relation…

The strength of a ritual is that it conveys credibility. If Chase is not exactly sure about his feelings to Cameron he would never turn it into a weekly ritual. Cameron knows that it is real – and this is only television.

Television (movies, series) and literature can be more real than life itself, but the credibility-criteria is what makes the fiction turn real. Credibility is what makes us buy what we read and or see.

And this is where the series and real life do not always match. On television it is quite easy to focus on a few recurring scenes where the ritual is displayed to the viewers. In real life this is much harder. In order to achieve the same credibility the ritual must be repeated over-and-over again without questioning. The discipline behind it will make it all credible.

Organizations are also centered around rituals. Think about the guided tour of the new employee to meet the managing board, or about the “casual Friday,” “the employee of the month,” or the new years speech. There all serve to fortalice the organization. But they are also subject to a change. When the seniority principle is loosing importance the celebration of this event will be canceled. New rituals enter the scene.
Just because they are so visible they are an easy target when managing change. Bring them in scope when managing change.

For those who watch House will probably sense what Chase will accomplish with the Tuesday attention ritual.

© 2007 Hans Bool

Hans Bool writes articles about management, culture and change. If you are interested to read or experience more about these topics have a look at: [ ]Astor White or sign-up for our [ ]newsletter.

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