Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Read @kentmerriman's response to @DrJoeAbah's request for suggestions on "How change happens in Nigeria".

I open with a Disclaimer – The below are purely my opinion and observation in the course of a career spanning over two decades. It is not intended as a consultancy towards any specific change agenda in Nigeria or anywhere else in the world.

The greatest misconception regarding change is the notion that because a situation is bad or not working and detrimental to growth people will necessarily want or support a proposed change. It is imperative for a Change Agent to realise that some people benefit from the bad/inefficient system and that naturally when people have been exposed for a long time to a situation, they become comfortable in it even when it hinders growth and optimal performance. These two classes of people are usually resistant to change. The notion of “the devil you know syndrome” is at play and as it plays out, change implementation becomes tricky to push, implement and/or sustain.

For change to work, it must benefit the majority whether it is nationwide change, organisational, or a group of people. Change must NEVER be about individuals. It must improve on what is currently ongoing, it must be an innovation that improves the outcome for the majority of people, in other words, it meets the original aim and lastly it must be sustainable.
It is important to realise right from the start of a plan for change that the proposed changes are likely to disadvantage some individuals or small groups as well as those that originally benefitted from the current situation. The critical thing is to come up with a strategy for ensuring these people are somewhat provided for; this may mean a sub change within a wider change agenda or a compensation plan for the fallouts. Either way, the danger is where this fallout isn’t anticipated and no plan has been made to mitigate the consequences of change to them.

Managing expectations must be done well in advance of the change implementation, many innovations happen accidentally at the initial stage, especially during creative/design stages. The flexibility to improvise, amend and restructure must be permissible. Change agents must also know that because an innovation is new it is possible it takes longer and/or requires more resources, human or monetary than expected. This does not mean that the change is unsuccessful, it just shows how managing expectations are critical to change implementation.
The perception and attitudes of the people must always be monitored and tackled timely and correctly. What “correctly” means remains solely the responsibility of the Change Agent. It is, for this reason, I advocate that only experienced individuals with the right competencies constitute the transformation team. This group of people would have the responsibility of Identifying all stakeholders, studying the current culture and how in-depth is the sponsor’s recognition for change, whether they have the power required to bring about the change they seek and that their leadership style is appropriate including a full risk assessment to define  mitigating steps for potential risks. They provide the tactical know how to bring together a customised solution that ensures the change is made.

Part II

The first time queuing at bus stations came to life, it appeared forced. This came about as a result of a strong disciplinarian and his deputy coming to power as a military administration in 1983. The project was called “War Against Indiscipline” and was by decree in February of the following year. This became largely the main focus of the Administration. For the first time after independence, Nigerians learnt how to stand in a queue and take their turn. Prior to this time, the prospect of taking the public transport was every passenger’s nightmare, not only because of the dilapidated states of the buses, or for the rude and unruly bus conductors usually known as “area boys” in those days. The nightmare was far more for the struggle to get on a bus.
The rush usually led to injuries, loss of properties and lives sometimes. Buses moved whilst people struggled to get onboard, passengers pushed and shoved each other; in fact, that was the norm. This led to unimaginable hardship and delays for people. WAI came at the height of this unsustainable misbehaviour. I suspect that in some way, the people were glad to see some sanity. It buttresses my point that should a change benefit the majority of people and makes a situation better for the larger society; it is likely to be successful.
The “Nigerian factor” of course was inevitable in the building of this culture, a few military brutality incidents were recorded during the implementation phases, mainly to control the diehard undisciplined ones, although widely condemned, it seemed to have put them in check. It allowed the 'change' to hold. The interesting thing is that as time went on, the soldiers were no longer required to sustain the change; the people themselves embraced the change. They had seen how life could be. The LSTC buses played an important role, no queue no board was enforced on all the state government buses, they showed the yellow and black strip mini-vans how to do it and it stuck.

Oshodi could arguably be named the home of the most chaotic bus stations of all, yet, it championed the queuing culture with the LSTC buses. The new culture spread from place to place; it is, therefore, a delight to find that this culture has continued since 1983, till date. Even during serious petrol scarcity crisis, somehow the queue still happens albeit chaotic, usually “intentionally designed so” by notorious petrol station attendants and even managers in some cases.  

It is now the order of the day to queue, at supermarket tills, Cinema ticket boots, Viewing Halls and ATM machine to name a few. It is a sustained change that is now the norm and our culture.
As a wrap, I can safely say it appears that for change to happen it must be advantageous to the majority such that they benefit largely from it quickly so much so that they themselves take ownership of the change and fight to sustain it. It is only when change is beneficial that Change is sustained

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