When we read about organizational change, it is often discussed as if change is easily defined, and – given the right people and methods – reasonably easy to master. The reality of organizational change however, often presents itself as so complex that many change psychologists would argue whether one can fully describe the analytic learning outcome in a way that would make it duplicable for future processes.
Change versus Changing
To understand the layers of change a bit better it is helpful to distinguish between change processes and processes of changing. When we look at change, we consider which engines might spark and enable change in any given system. When we look at aspects of changing, we aim to understand how change can best be managed within an organization. From that perspective change is about the sources, the starting points of the process while changing focuses more on the desired outcome and how to achieve it as a collective.
Change in itself is far from being controllable. It can be forced on us or simply develop over time. It can take place incrementally or radically. It can be destructive, restorative or innovative in nature. It can be sparked through dialectical, teleological, evolutionary or life-cyclical developments. None of these dynamics are influenced by human agency per se. Changing, i.e. the adaptation to change, on the other hand, always requires human agency one way or another.
Change and changing can be, and often are, seen as opposing forces. In this opposition, we often seek to reduce the uncontrollable side of change or ignore it entirely. The seemingly manageable side to the contrary is often promoted and fostered throughout the organization. However, as opposed as the two perspectives might seem, the real magic unfolds when we look at them not as opposing dynamics but as a healthy symbiosis that may pave the way for change, transformation.
The Culture of Innovation
Processes of change and processes of changing can happen simultaneously as well as consecutively. For example: A change process can start off with unplanned change that then requires a planned change intervention, which again may have to be adapted due to unforeseen turns of events (consecutive). Or, an organization may experience transformation and change through an associative innovation initiative (simultaneous). Each has its place and time and requires the right people and mind-set. Needless to say there are also many more options and possibilities to mix the processes of change and changing in any shape or form.
That said, none of the shapes change or changing come in is fully controllable and predictable. Therefore, if we want truly novel things to happen in our organizations, we need to learn to let go of the thought that we can always foresee and plan what that newness is going to look like. The easy logic being that if we already knew what the outcome of our change initiatives is going to be, it would not really count as new and if nothing is new where would the change really be?
However, if we do want to open ourselves up to embrace the uncontrollable side of change, we are facing an inherent crux: organizations and their leaders are all about planning, foreseeing, and envisioning the future! Therefore, additionally embracing the powerful, but rather unmanageable change dynamics means willingly leaving known territory and taking a leap of faith. As business is not about blind faith and undeserved trust, the organization first needs to decide whether this is the route it truly wants to take and second, make sure that it can provide a safety and support net for itself and its employees in form of:
- an organization design that promotes creativity and self-directedness of its members
- processes that flexibly allow for the co-created knowledge, solutions and visions to circulate within the organization
- a range of selection-, feedback- and implementation-strategies for the created solutions
- allocated time and space in a safe environment for people to experiment and make mistakes
- fostering of personal growth including trust in and the empowerment of oneself and others
These steps in themselves are deep changes in the DNA of an organization. Naturally they take time and commitment. The road may also be paved with considerable obstacles and unplanned developments. But that is the nature of change. Your return on investment might well be more fully engaged employees, powerful knowledge creation/circulation and a broader basis for an overall organizational resilience.
Guest author Erika Jacobi is the President of LC GLOBAL Consulting Inc. LC GLOBAL™ leads people and organizations through important change and innovation processes to pave the way for unique transformation and sustainable growth. For more information visit www.lc-global-us.com or follow us on Youtube at http://bit.ly/1CPbMQ5.