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Ready for Change? (Part 1)

Is your organization due for a makeover? Perhaps you have been tasked to implement a change, maybe even transform the company?

Now is the time to ask tough questions:

  • Is change needed?

  • Is change possible?

  • Does everyone agree on what change is needed?

True change requires changing the mindset, values and principles. In Donella Meadows' words, these are the most effective places to intervene in a system.

Conditions for Change

The Satir model describes change as the introduction of a foreign element followed by chaos before a transforming idea is found, integrated and a new status quo established.

Conditions for change depend on this foreign element. A strong enough forcing function is often needed for true change to happen. If the foreign element can be ignored it probably will. There will be resistance followed by inevitable gravitational pull back to the latest status quo.

The foreign element needs to be strong enough to escape status quo gravitational pull.

This is more likely in a complacent organization.

Complacent organizations are characterized by dogma, best practices and static mindsets regarding purpose and operation. There are plenty of examples of complacent, change aversive, companies going out of business because of inability to keep up with the rest of the world. One famous example is Kodak.

So what could a foreign element be? Here are some examples:

  • New CEO

  • Industry trend

  • Disruptive technology

  • Acquisition

  • Winning procurement

  • Losing a key customer

  • Security breach

  • Pandemic

Maybe you are the foreign element inducing change. Maybe you are brought on explicitly to bring change, or perhaps you want change for other reasons: previous experiences, personal preferences, etc. Regardless there are always limits to how much you will be able to influence the organization.

Impact Radius

The scope of change is affected by the change agents' impact radius. The impact radius in turn is affected by formal and informal authority.

To properly gauge the chance of success you need to understand the impact radius, and look at ways to increase it.

Available Bandwidth

Change requires bandwidth. Without sufficient motivation to change or clear direction people will not set aside precious time for efforts needed to change.

Understanding your impact radius and identifying key stakeholders to sponsor the change is essential to get the bandwidth needed for the change.

Generating Insights

Understanding the conditions for change helps gauge if you might succeed. Here are some experiments you can try to gain insights.

Find Allies

Find allies that believe what you believe. This will help you increase the impact radius.

Create an influencer map with people promoting and people opposing the change. Create a strategy for how to interact with or navigate around these persons. Can they be influenced? Are they influencing others? Do you have a good relationship with them? Who do they interact with? What do they want?

Push the Envelope

One way of learning about the current status quo and how people react to change is to push the envelope. Act like the change has already happened, and see what kind of repsonse you get by acting accordingly.

Pushing the envelope also helps you find allies that you might not have known about, as well as people strongly opposing change. Maybe it will encourage other people to start acting differently and being more courageous.

Visualize Current Position

You can visualize the current organization, relationships, challenges and strengths in multiple ways. For example as a workshop together with other change agents and allies. Consider sharing the result to get feedback and gain further insights based on the responses.

Another way is to draw the company as a map illustrating dangerous places, safe routes, etc. (See this retrospective exercise: Retromat: Company Map)

A third option is to create a value stream map visualizing how value is created.

Conclusions

True change is only possible under certain conditions. Getting a lay of the land before initiating change is time well spent. Increasing the potential impact radius and finding allies and sponsors early on is essential.

Several things can be done to learn more about the current status quo and where people stand on the change.

In the next part I will write about the next step: implementing the change.



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