Leading change – What issues we let disturb us?

Thanks to Leena Masalin I started to read  Margaret Wheatley’s article Bringing life to organizational change.

Even if it’s an old article it hasn’t lost its meaning. At the time when the article was published it stated that in recent surveys, CEOs report that up to 75% of their organizational change efforts do not yield the promised results which means time and money will be spend to cover unwanted results not to nourish planned ones. Has it really changed that much since then? A more recent study by Towers Watson (2013) found that only 25% of change management initiatives are successful over the long term.

Why is it that we still end up facing hostility and broken relationships, burned out and demoralized groups of survivors. Why do we work hard to get people working together peacefully, not mention more efficiently? And how do we deal with this failure? We need to find somebody to blame. How professional is that?

In the article by Wheatley and Kellner-Rogers the writers believe failures at organizational change result from a very deep misunderstanding of who people are and what’s going on inside the organization. If this is true then we should have a way to fix it.

Change refers to a difference in a state of affairs at different points in time. Change is something we face in our lives every day.  In most cases we analyse and test results first but don’t seem to think if its necessary when driving through change in an organization. Instead of taking time and learning from what we’ve done, in most cases we just speed up towards the next project and forget the previous ones. In a way avoiding being the target of a possible blame is more important than the end result and learning from it.

I agree with the writers. Change isn’t some neat process described in increments. It’s a complex tangled web of relationships and networks that characterize all living systems. There are no simple stages.

The personalized change effect

Think about a single person. You can’t dictate how someone understands your words. A person can take your words nicely or badly. You’ve been in a situation where someone hurts your feelings. What happens next? You go to your friend to explain what happened and maybe you tell same story to your other friend too. They might be talking about your hurt feelings to their friends. You swell on your hurt feelings until you just have to decide what to do. Then you’re ready for the change, but what of the others who agreed with you and thought you were mistreated? They come back to you asking if you’re ok, and you give them explanations and tell everything is good now. They may believe you or still stay in doubt of the situation, but now they are slowly able to change their minds.

If the organization which is on verge of change understands that change starts from the individual they have better chance to succeed. Every person is an author of their own existence.

The choreography looks also like its dancer

My passion is dancing. When you take a choreography and give it to a dancer, regardless of how well the dancer obeys the instructions, in the end the performance the choreography is always an interpretation of how the dancer saw and felt it.  That’s what happens with every person you give instructions. One way or another they take it as they please and mould it to the form which suits them.

Is that disobedience? For me this is easier to realize through dance. There are no truly identical moves between tw0 different dancers. It’s impossible. People are different. In the article Wheatley and Kellner-Rogers describe that as exercising inalienable freedom to create for themselves. Making their work to your work, like dancers.

Even if I need to categorize myself as one who often exercises the freedom to create to myself, I believe there are also people who do their best to obey the rules and succeed in that. But is the price of perfect obedience forfeiting vitality? Killing the thing which gives us life?

What’s important to us?

Organizations are highly complex and the process of organizing is quite simple if it takes into account people’s needs to create. We don’t need to give up on existing structures and visions but we need to change our believes and behavior and understand where reactions come from.

We notice things that are important to us. What if our colleagues fail to respond to us just because they don’t find the shared significance of the issue at hand? What if it’s not communications failure? Have they just found freedom and chosen not to be disturbed with this matter?

The writers of the article give four principles to remember when thinking about strategies to organizational change.

Participation is not a choice. – Who else needs to be here?

People only support what they create. Life and people insists to participate and can never be sold on or bossed into accepting someone else’s plan. If we want to succeed in organizational change we have no choice but to invite people in to the process.

Life always reacts to directive, it never obeys them. – What just happened?

People accept only partners, not bosses. No matter how and what we communicate the result of it is reactions, not straightforward compliance. Therefore what we should do is invite people to get involved with us, to think with us. If we dare to offer our work as invitation to react this changes our relationships with all parties and opens us for partnering relationship. Each reaction offers the viewer insight into a different perception on what is important, thus giving an organization a chance to learn.

We do not see “reality”. We each create our own interpretation of what’s real. – Can we talk?

We see the world through who we are. The shared significance of the matter is only achieved through discussion between people, even if we don’t need to agree on interpretation or hold identical values. Through conversation that welcomes unique perspective from everyone.

To create better health in a living system, connect it to more of itself.– Who are we now?

A failing system need to start talking especially with those who didn’t know were even part of it. Every organization has natural tendency to move toward a better health. This requires the leader to accomplish critical task and increase the number, variety and strength of connections within the system.

Principles define what we have together decided is significant to us as organization. They are like agreements about what we will notice. What are the issues that we let disturb us?

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