All of us grew up in families, communities, cultures which taught us right and wrong, perhaps it wasn’t called that, but we all learned certain behaviours were appropriate and acceptable while others were not. This might have ranged from saying please and thank you to what clothes and colours to wear to what we believe about humans and how the world came to be to what jobs to do.
For most of us, we also came to believe what we were capable of, what our skills were, what we were to do with our lives. So when we consider doing something different, consider changing this, our internal resistance comes fully to life as we are questioning who we ‘are’. This is often even stronger is the change is not from within, but externally driven.
Years ago, I heard a story of a CEO of a large organisation who would ask his personal assistant if it was ok for him to leave the office early to go home to work from there. The PA was shocked at first saying he didn’t need her permission, however he went on to explain that because of how he was raised and his own mental tape, he needed to hear someone he trusted say it was ‘ok’ to go home. He needed permission.
Before we judge the CEO too quickly think about how many of your colleagues and even how often you ask for permission or need to hear the reassurance of ‘it’s ok’ from someone else. The permission to try, the permission to change. And before we leave the CEO behind, think about the self-awareness he had to know what he needed to hear and to set that up in his life – how many of us have that level of self-awareness?
Many of our larger organisation are not freedom filled organisations – there are lots of clearly stated and also unspoken rules and structures to follow. Projects bringing about change in organisations are asking people to do things differently, to break with the current rules (spoken or unspoken). This can be quite difficult for people as the organisation has been rewarding them for ‘obeying’ the rules and now we are asking them to break them – it can cause some internal angst in them. This especially true if we are asking them to break the rules in one part of their work and keep them in another.
Especially at the beginning of the process we need to clearly, consistently, and frequently communicate permission to change, permission to break the rules, permission to ‘disobey’. While we may be communicating about the new behaviours we want to see, the new processes to follow, we also need to say ‘it’s ok to stop doing that’. As the change sets in, the change will become the norm and pull people along, but at the beginning it seems we need to hear permission more than we often think we do.