Change Curve: The Dynamic Change Process [Part 2] – Framing Change

I’ve got to the last of the three manifestations of organisational change represented in the Change Curve framework. ‘Dynamic Change‘ is that which agile organisations can achieve. Earlier this week i introduced a four part model that represented this, showing how the dynamic organisation frames change, co-creates (and co-owns) solutions, adapts as it works and narrates it’s learning back into the tribe. Today, i’m exploring the first part of that model in a little more depth: framing change.

Change Curve - Dynamic Change in action

The organisation that benefits from Dynamic change sees multiple passes through this model: constantly framing ideas, co-creating solutions, testing them and sharing it’s stories.

And here’s the model to remind you of the overall framework:

Change Curve - Dynamic Change

In an older model of change, the organisation would write the story for others to follow. In an agile approach, seeking Dynamic change, the organisation creates a frame where individuals and engaged communities co-create solutions. The organisation has it’s say, but that story is refined as it’s tested in the real world. We can identify three elements of the frame that the organisation needs to create: it should set the direction of travel, then it should create clear spaces for the community to work in, with clear expectations and resourcing, and it must give appropriate permission. Failure to do all three will likely lead back to ‘churning‘, not change.

Change Curve - Dynamic Change - Framing Change

Direction‘ is about an honest conversation: it’s not a marketing exercise in how we want to paint a fictitious and rosy future, it’s an imperative for change and a call to arms. It’s creating the opportunity for people to engage by being honest about what the change means. For example, if the aim of change is to save costs, we need to be honest about it, and about the extent of it. Or if the aim of change is to improve quality of outputs, we need equal honesty about that too. Why? Because under a co-created model of change, we are looking for people to align themselves with the future state, then co-create it with us (and co-own the journey as we get there). We can’t do that without honesty.

Setting direction is not about writing the story, it’s about saying ‘this is the story we want to write‘. For example: ‘Our market requires greater speed of innovation: over the next six months, we need to write our story of how we achieve world class innovation. Are you part of this story?

The frame can be complex if it needs to be, for example, we can say what’s in or out of scope: ‘As we write this story, we cannot change our geographical footprint, but we can look at our core technologies, and our levels of staffing. We can talk about whether we acquire expertise from outside, but that needs to be in line with our values. We will only acquire companies that match these‘. This is an example of a framework that includes both fixed elements (the geography and need for cultural alignment), but also creates space for co-creation (how we do it, where we look etc).

Space‘ is about where the conversations take place: on formal technology, we have formal conversations, but for socially moderated solutions, we need co-owned space, space where people are able to learn. We need rehearsal and storytelling space which isn’t fully owned by the organisation.

Communities are fluid: they can move from space to space whilst maintaining the coherence of a conversation, so we shouldn’t imagine that we can procure and deploy a space to own them. It’s more about making a space available, being in the conversation, but not seeking to own or dominate it.

Facets of Co-Creation

Co-Creation is something we do in communities: it’s a core skill of the Social Age

This is a key differentiator of a truly agile organisation: it’s willing to relinquish the control in order to reap the benefits of co-creation.

Permission‘ is about clarity on the rules: what’s fixed and what’s on the table. What will cause the shoe to drop, what’s safe? We should always remember that if permission is not granted, it will be claimed, possibly out of earshot. If we want the benefits, we have to take on the risk: create the space, give the permission. If something goes wrong, deal with it together, through conversation, not formal authority.

Social spaces require Social Leadership: not hierarchical models of authority and control, reputation based, not rooted in the hierarchy and formal power. For example, permission may be as simple as telling people what they can and can’t discuss: ‘Within this space, you can discuss options around restructuring and redeployment of people, but you can’t talk about specific people‘. Clear permission to talk about change, with no ambiguity. Or, ‘You can talk about radical solutions in this space, but we agree that our stories stay within this space. We do not share them outside this group‘.

Framing the change is about setting a clear direction of travel, about creating clear spaces and clear permissions. If you hear me saying ‘clear‘ a lot, it’s because we want to remove ambiguity and make ‘clear‘ that these are rehearsal and learning spaces. Not yet performance ones.

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The Man Who Mistook… A Tribute to Oliver Sacks

It didn’t take me long to find the first reference i made to Oliver Sacks’ work: it’s in the first significant piece of writing it did, for my undergraduate dissertation on the psychology and neurophysiology of interpretation. It’s easy to find the influences on my postgraduate research too, into communication theory and language. And as i skim through the draft manuscript of my current book, on music and learning, his thinking and passion shine through. Indeed, his own book ‘Musicophilia‘ was one spark igniting my own writing on the subject.

Oliver Sacks: the man who mistook

From his early roots in England, to his time in the Bronx, from his foundations in science to his discovery of literature, he spoke with an eloquence and insight that few could match. Oliver Sacks possessed the rare ability to understand the complex, but to make it beautiful, to feel the pain but tell a beautiful story, beautifully. His writing is engaging, insightful and deeply empathetic.

Awakenings‘ may be his most famous book, a narrative of his time with survivors of the ‘sleepy sickness‘, a ward full of comatose patients who he ‘woke up‘ after decades of inactivity using a new drug. A glorious summer of rebirth ensued before, slowly, they slipped back into the darkness. The Holywood film with Robert de Niro and Robin Williams bought the story to millions, but it is, at heart, a story of compassionate science, of people, not statistics or analysis.

The man who mistook his wife for a hat‘ was an exploration of bemusement and incapacitation, told with kindness and humanity. ‘Seeing Voices‘, one of my favourite texts, explores sign language as an emergent and individual language and an insight into how the brain strives to communicate, to share and learn.

He was equally capable of turning the spotlight inwards: in ‘Migraine‘ he explored his own experiences of debilitating bouts through art, literature and science. It’s a great example of his cross border explorations.

Prolific throughout his life, ‘Musicophilia‘ represents, to me, a perfect tribute to a curious mind: a travel through the language of sound, the underlying neurology, but also the beauty and emergent meaning of this deep routed phenomenon.

I have always named Sacks as one of the greatest influences not just on my thinking, but on my writing: his clear style felt no need to boast it’s intellectual foundations, and yet those foundations were clearly there.

When the time came this year, where he received the diagnosis of a terminal cancer, he approached it in stoic fashion, picking up a pen and sharing his hopes, fears and sense of a life well lived. Writing with humility and a calmness that comes through wisdom hard earned.

Whilst expected, it was with sadness that i read of his death at the weekend: the world is poorer for his passing, but i take consolation in the books on my shelf, books that i’m sure will be constant companions in the next chapters of my own journey. And what better legacy than his: a man who devoted his life to understanding how our minds work and to helping others as he did so.

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Change Curve: The Dynamic Change Model [Part 1]

I’ve been exploring the Change Curve, a framework for understanding organisational change and what we can do to ease the process. It characterises three states: ‘Resistant‘ organisations, who reject change and deploy antibodies to kill it, ‘Constrained‘ organisations, who are unable to relinquish enough control for it truly to gain momentum, and ‘Dynamic‘ organisations, whereby change comes naturally, not as the exception, and the change is co-created and co-owned. It’s a state of true agility, making it ideal for an organisation facing the challenges of the Social Age.

Change Curve - Dynamic Change

The diagram above represents the Dynamic Change Approach: we start with the organisation framing the change, then co-create a path forward. As the change starts to bite, we listen and adapt, always working within the frame, and co-creating solutions. As we find traction, gain amplification and momentum, we narrate the change back into the wider organisation, building tacit knowledge and tribal experience, all of which eases the process next time around.

The Change Curve: Generating Momentum in Change

In an agile organisation which takes a Dynamic approach to change, we do not just see this process once: it’s lived in every aspect. Frame the need, co-create the solution, work, listen and adapt, then narrate the experience. Again and again. The agile organisation is one that is setup, through infrastructure and resource, to be reconfigurable and adaptable. The agile organisation can work dynamically because it’s not fighting the hierarchy and system: it’s optimised for it’s ecosystem.

Indeed, this Dynamic Change approach represents the difference between a Constrained and Dynamic organisation effectively: the Constrained organisation is constrained because it loses energy by fighting controls. It’s willing to change, but ultimately hostage to it’s own processes and hierarchy. The truly dynamic organisation has moved to a more socially moderated hierarchy, where formal authority and permission is complimented by social, giving greater authority to formal leaders, and unlocking the value of Social Leaders. It’s rather like having your cake and eating it: the best of the old, the best of the new.

Over the next few days, i’ll be decoupling the different aspects of this model, exploring more of what i mean by it and how we achieve it in real life.

The Change Curve: The Amplification Effect

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Change Curve: Co-Creating and Co-Owning Change Stories

I’m writing a series of #WorkingOutLoud articles as i piece together the Change Curve framework for Dynamic organisational change in the Social Age. It’s a model whereby we identify where an organisation sits on the change curve, we consider the Resisters and Amplifiers of change, then work to move the organisation from ‘Resistant‘, through ‘Constrained‘ and into ‘Dynamic‘. One mechanism we are using to overcome ‘constraint‘ is storytelling, creating spaces outside the formal structure to build shared narratives. Today, i’m expanding on that.

Change Curve - shared stories for change

We introduced the idea of ‘Bridging Conversations‘, where we provide space for communities to build their story, then bridge them back into the organisation. To do this, we have two elements to consider: the overall narrative framework, and the mechanism by which we integrate individual stories into it.

Change Curve - the Control Effect

The narrative framework is the organisational input into the change story: we are co-creating a story, so it’s fine for the organisation to have input into it. It just doesn’t fully write it or fully own it. The organisations willingness to relinquish control of the story is one of the markers of a Dynamic as opposed to Constrained organisation (if any aspect of co-creation is denied, then the organisation is stuck at the Resistant part of the Change Curve, where antibodies kill any effort to change).

Change Curve - The Antibody Effect - types of antibody

The narrative framework is therefore the part of the story that the organisation owns: it may structure which topics are covered, and the importance that the organisation puts on it. But how do we incorporate the individual elements?

Broadly, there are two options: active storytelling, or active co-writing. When we take an active storytelling approach, we use a designated storyteller to help people write their personal story into the shared narrative, to facilitate them through technology and storytelling skills. With an active co-writing approach, we simply let the community write the stories and integrate them. This second approach is less involved, but relies more on individual engagement. The strongest results are likely to come with an active storytelling mechanism in place.

Let’s think of an example: organisations often tell stories about the future state with one particular stance. Maybe it’s about cost saving, about restructured teams, about being more fit for a new market. But individuals may want to tell different stories: they may have different opportunities and different priorities, and by understanding them, we are better able to understand how they can be invested in the future state.

Sure: there are always down sides, but our aim here is to engage in them with an honest and authentic dialogue, but to move beyond that to explore what happens next.

So change, to me personally, may present me with different challenges: maybe my team will be virtual, so my story (and co-creative conversation with others) may be about how i think i will adapt my working life to collaborate remotely. Is that a global story that solves the organisation’s desire to state where it will end up? No. Is it a personal conversation highly relevant to me, and possibly others within the organisation as we figure out what the future state looks like? Yes. And will sharing it help others adapt too, sharing their own knowledge, experience, thoughts and ideas on the future state? Yes.

Will the conversation make the change more likely to be successful, not just from a logistics point of view, but a productivity and engagement one? Yes.

So co-creating stories of change is not just something nice to do, it’s a vital way to ensure we leverage value from the great people we gave a job to in the first place. And it’s a great mechanism for allowing those people and teams to take ownership of, responsibility for and add value to the shape of the change itself.

Take another example: where do you find your pride? Organisations may take pride in one space, whilst as individuals we take pride in other areas. Perhaps the ways we deliver projects, nurture others or help our organisation engage in it’s local community. Better to allow people to integrate their stories of pride alongside our own organisational narrative, rather than to tuck it away as if it’s some second rate, microscopic part of the whole. Because the win, if we get our approach right, is a more highly engaged and reflective, invested team.

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Change Curve: The Control Effect [Part 2] – chocks away!

Within the Constrained organisation, there are multiple change conversations taking place, but each is somehow isolated: it’s energy is constrained. It’s rather like an aircraft on the runway, with the chocks still in place: it doesn’t matter how powerful the engines are, it’s not going anywhere until the chocks are removed.

Change Curve - The Control Effect

This is characteristic of an organisation that is churning, not changing: it’s active, it’s motivated, it desires change, but it’s not yet fully in motion.

Change Curve - the Control Effect

Our mechanism to remove the chocks is not to push harder: that’s an application of the wrong type of energy. Instead, we need to create a space for conversations, outside of the project, outside of the formal space. We invite people to come together in unusual configurations, cutting across functional areas, to co-create the change story. We provide a common narrative structure to these groups, but let them fill in the words. These co-created stories are owned by the communities: framed by the organisation, but co-written, and they form the levers that will let us remove the chocks.

We can call these ‘Bridging Conversations‘, and i’ll explore them in more detail in a subsequent post.

These stories chart the activity taking place, but contextualise it within the whole change journey: so instead of the organisation telling us where the change is going, the community documents it. They draw their own map.

Change Curve - the Control Effect - chocks away!

With these stories as levers, we have the first element we need to unlock the energy: we can use them to remove the chocks and start to get movement.

Our challenge then is to align the energy: an organisation in churn has movement, just that the movement is random and counters itself.

Change Curve - the Control Effect - chocks away!

Here, we can continue to use narrative approaches: telling stories through change. These stories will let us align the momentum, to find common direction, around shared energy.

As individual elements of the change story are amplified, and owned, by individual communities, around a shared narrative, we gain momentum, and with momentum, we can start to achieve Dynamic change.

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Change Curve: The Control Effect [Part 1]

The Change Curve describes three manifestations of organisational change: ‘Resisted‘, where the organisation deploys antibodies to kill change conversations, ‘Constrained‘, where the organisation is aware of and wants to change, but is ultimately unable to relinquish control, and ‘Dynamic‘, where amplification and energy give momentum. Today i’m exploring an element of the Constrained organisation, the ‘Control Effect‘, and how we can overcome it.

Change Curve - the Control Effect

The ultimate expression of Dynamic Change is an agile organisation: agility being the fluid ability to solve problems and unite behind common stories, at speed and scale. The agile organisation is facilitated by the right structures and mindsets: it’s a combination of high functioning teams, strong Social Leadership and facilitating technology. In a Constrained organisation, there is a willingness and desire to achieve this, but it’s self limiting: the older mechanisms of control and the hierarchical power structures that underly them conspire to constrain the change: we see pockets of change activity, but they can never join up and achieve momentum. The energy is partitioned.

Unlike a Resistant organisation (where antibodies prevent change ever taking root) the Constrained organisation may both desire and support change, but it’s inability to relinquish certain controls, to provide certain permissions, prevents the change stories being amplified. Without amplification, we lack momentum and get stuck at churn.

Change Curve - The Antibody Effect - churning

Our challenge in the Constrained organisation is not one of selling the change story, but rather one of unlocking the energy. To do this, we need, on the one hand, to nurture the pockets of change conversation to build energy and, on the other hand, to free up the space to join them up.

Let’s start with how we build the energy: this is broadly about how we charge the batteries to power the change. Our strongest position is to nurture the existing conversations, but to provide a framework and space for them to shape up further and start moving.

Change Curve - The Control Effect

For example, even when the organisation is in churn, there is a lot of activity taking place. We can use storytelling approaches to start letting each of these projects tell their story. At a macro level,, we can then take each of those stories and start to weave a meta narrative, the Organisational story, to give a shared trajectory to each of those pieces.

Alongside this narrative of activity, we can layer in our own framework, providing opportunities for the community to make connections: let the different groups determine how the individual change efforts feed into the whole. To some extent, this is a reverse engineered approach: instead of a top down model, where the organisation defines the change and writes the change story, in this model, we allow the different groups to write their own narrative of how their project contributes to change.

The Change Curve: Generating Momentum in Change

We should trust them to do this: after all, if they are unable to articulate it, and they are the people within the business that is changing, there’s a sign that the business is, in fact, not changing at all, but rather is stuck in churn. If the view from the deck is not moving, neither is the ship.

Recognising the change narrative is only the first part of true change though: helping shape the future story and being invested in that change is the second part. That’s where we see the change truly being unlocked, and travelling on a common, shared path. After all, we are not looking for just movement: the organisation in churn already has that. We are looking for purposeful direction, at an individual and organisational level.

I’m #WorkingOutLoud this week, developing this material around the Change Curve. I will continue to develop this second stage, exploring the Constrained organisation, tomorrow.

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Humility in Leadership

It strikes me that those things which used to be peripheral can become central: those things which used to be soft can become hard. There used to be words like ‘competition‘, ‘performance‘ and ‘leadership‘, which were testosterone laden and associated with success, and words like ‘kindness‘, ‘fairness‘ and ‘humility‘, which were nice, but not ‘hard‘ like the rest. You could be a nice loser, or a tough winner. But there was no space for humility in a competitive world.

Humility in Leadership

Maybe once, if ever, that was true, but in the Social Age it’s decidedly not so. Social authority, that which is contextual and consensual of our communities, is based upon the actions we take over time, those things that we do to and with others. Our ability to curate a reputation for fairness, for kindness, is important: because it’s a foundation of the trust that others will build in us, and that trust is the foundation of action.

Humility is a willingness to recognise that we don’t have all the answers, and a strength to help others find the answers that they seek: and to do so with no expectation of reciprocity in the moment. It’s to engage without reward, beyond the sense of value that we add into our communities and to others.

Mosaic of Fairness

We need every conversation to be fair, not just the big ones

But this soft action does not give soft power: it’s a foundation of reputation and social authority, that form of authority that is granted by the community to us, on the condition that we use it responsibly.

Humility is not a position of weakness, it’s a foundation of strength. It’s not something nice to layer on top, but rather something to weave into our thought and action. It’s not incidental to great leadership: it’s the foundation of it.

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