There is a remarkable similarity between turbulence as a passenger on an aircraft; and as an employee within an organisation experiencing change.
If we think about flying, 95% of passengers find turbulence unpleasant and some are even too scared to fly but the reality of the situation is that even with turbulence all passengers end up at their final destination as intended, but not many would have enjoyed their journey. Change programs unfortunately don’t have the same success rates in terms of reaching their ultimate destination but there are certainly synergies with flying in the sense that not many of the ‘passengers’ would have enjoyed the journey.
As pilots you have, in most cases, control over how much turbulence the passengers will experience and this is where the analogy between flying and change management becomes very interesting.
With modern technology in the cockpit the majority of turbulence can be predicted. A pilot has options on seeing turbulent air on a storm scope. They can choose to fly through, fly round, fly above or below or reduce their speed. All but the first option will increase the time taken to the destination, increase the cost but the journey will be more pleasant for the passengers and crew. The important thing about this is that the pilot takes a conscious decision in terms of how rough the journey will be and in turn how ‘pleasant’ the flight is. A leader of a change program has similar decisions to take. The faster the change process the more uncomfortable it is for the employees.
Pilots also base their decisions on the type of passengers on board. The pilot of a private jet will take more care not to cause a Gin and Tonic to be spilt as opposed to a military jet ferrying squaddies back from a war zone. Whilst managing a successful change process you also need to understand how much change your employees can withstand. Like the pilot you need to know your passengers, which is why carrying out a change readiness assessment is not a nice to have but a critical element of the change process.
If only life was this easy. Unfortunately not every part of turbulence appears on a storm scope. Clear air turbulence will often take a pilot by surprise, maybe another aircraft has warned the pilot but this doesn’t happen in all cases. In a change program look at things that have tripped up past projects, get the warning from other pilots....or in the case of severe unexpected turbulence have a contingency plan just like a pilot would; slow down, alter the course but still have the final destination in sight.