Instead, work to make change happen.
That message came through loud and clear in the excellent, thought-provoking July 30 webinar Change Management Is Obsolete: Learnings from Research and Practice about What’s Next. Dr. Chris Worley and Dr. Susan Mohrman of the Center for Effective Organizations (CEO) at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business conducted the lively session.
“What could be more anachronistic and ill-fitted to today’s world than a model that assumes we can manage change?” they asked. “Our models need to be about how to make change.”
In other words, think biology, not engineering.
In nature, plants, animals and minerals change all the time. In fact, change is the way things work.
Yet, in organizations, many people and certainly traditional change models still gravitate to the status quo.
For example, change-averse individuals want to protect the status quo.
Change management professionals using traditional change models manage the change by blowing up the status quo and trying to create a new steady state.
A stable state of any type is a pipe dream in our VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous). When you stand still, you fall behind.
Instead, based on their research, Dr. Worley and Dr. Mohrman said organizations need to be building agility as an organizational capability.
As they define it, agility represents the capacity to make timely, effective and sustainable organizational changes.
To be agile, individuals must combine a number of different skill sets along with adopting a specific mindset. Agility needs to be learned and experienced. You cannot buy agility, they cautioned.
Dr. Worley and Dr. Mohrman also said organizations need to get away from acting as if change travels from the center out, led by the C-suite.
Rather, true change diffuses throughout the organization carried by networks of people.
To accelerate change and make sure it’s evenly spread, organizations need three key elements: active leadership, learning and engagement.
Their research supports what I’ve been practicing with my clients for several years now.
For example, three principles I operate under for my clients include:
1. Embrace DIY (do it yourself). I act more like Tom Sawyer than his creator Mark Twain. For example, by getting friends to help him paint a fence and enjoy the experience, Tom involved others to do the work and got better results.
By getting involved and taking an active role with my support and training, my clients are building capabilities that they can continually use. Their involvement helps them increase their comfort level with change and improve their actions.
Plus, they’re realizing greater value faster—greater ownership at lower cost. Having me work as needed rather than being onsite fulltime for several weeks or months saves them money.
For more about this, check out my blog post Lead to better thinking, not drinking.
2. Combine improved thinking with tiny steps on the individual level. I believe changes in mindset and behavior happen on the individual, not organization, level. After all, organizations are made up of individuals.
Using brain-friendly, neuroscience-based practices, I help leaders and their teams learn how to get in a positive mental state so they can be more open, more thoughtful and more collaborative. This improves their thinking and their performance.
At the same time, I also work with leaders and their teams to divvy up their big strategic actions into smaller, more manageable steps that individuals can easily take. When individuals take simple steps and succeed, they are more willing to take more and bigger steps. This starts them building new habits and routines that will help them achieve ambitious goals.
The combination of improved thinking and continuous tiny steps can lead to big, positive change. For more about this, check out my blog post Making SCARF a daily habit.
3. Bring the outside in to close the disconnect between what we know and what we’re doing. As an outsider, I bring clarity of distance to my clients, as explained in my blog post, Three ways to be clear from a distance. This helps them better navigate the turbulent terrain.
Even with a roadmap or GPS system, people can’t see past their blind spots. Plus, in today’s crazy, busy work world, people keep their heads down toiling as fast as they can. They’re not looking up enough to see what’s happening outside their organization (or even the three walls of their cube) and they miss signals.
By sharing what others have done and explaining how to apply the latest research, I can jump start the process, help them gain traction and accelerate their progress. For more about using measurement and other techniques, see my blog post, 5 ways to support work-force science to engage and change behavior.
We are working in an exciting time, especially if we embrace and redefine VUCA as “visioning, understanding, clarity and agility,” as I wrote about in Leading in a VUCA world more than a year ago.
Back then, I was trying to find a more up-to-date, accurate phrase to replace “change management.” Now I think it’s called “work.” And I’ll be glad to help you with it.
What do you think?