Why A Magical Change Leaves A Bad Taste In Your Mouth

Welcome to another Friday the 13th edition of The Change Leader Weekly. Last time we delved into superstition. Today, let’s take a break from the normal format and let’s look at magic.

In particular – sleight of hand.

There’s a great little segment that Penn and Teller did almost a decade ago on the 7 principles of sleight of hand. (I’ve linked it for you below). But, before we delve into the magic, let’s add a change lens to it. As you’re reading through the list, I want you to consider where you’ve seen that principle play out in the workplace, and what the general perception of it was.

Personally, I’ve seen each and every one of these principles used to achieve a desired means during an organisational change, but there was almost always fallout. Or, to put it another way, magic is about lying and deceiving… and while we may not mind being deceived in the name of entertainment, it can leave a nasty taste in your mouth in a workplace.

What that means for you is that, unless you are particularly Machiavellian, the 7 principles of sleight of hand are really good ways to lose the trust of the people you work with. They are therefore useful to us as examples of what to avoid in our change efforts.

So here they are – along with an example of how’ve I’ve seen it manifest in organisational change.

The 7 principles are:

  1. Hold – to hold an object in an apparently empty hand (i.e. to give the illusion that you don’t have something, but you do).
    Commonly seen in changes that suggest that they don’t have a solution or candidate pre-decided, but in-fact they do – entailing much work, hope and consideration that was wholly unneeded.
  2. Ditch – to secretly dispose of an unneeded object.
    Commonly seen when scope items or metrics just ‘disappear’ off reports and plans. Out of sight, out of mind.
  3. Steal – to secretly obtain a needed object.
    Commonly seen when drawing huge, unreasonable chunks of time from resources that aren’t allocated to the project. Their day-job be damned.
  4. Load – to secretly move a needed object to where it’s needed.
    Commonly seen through regular, destabilising leadership shuffles that are all too common in change.
  5. Simulation – to give the impression that something that hasn’t happened, has.
    Commonly seen in ‘watermelon’ projects (i.e. red on the inside, green on the outside). Reporting progress that is better than reality.
  6. Misdirection – to lead attention away from the secret move.
    Commonly seen in ‘town-hall’ sessions that post a rosy picture of everything related to the change. No change is every 100% rosy.
  7. Switch – to secretly exchange one object for another.
    Commonly seen when a change sets out to achieve a specific WHY, but ‘goes live’ proclaiming to meet a related, but different need.

Is your change magic?

…and what affect is it having on the trust within your workplace?

PS. here’s the vid: