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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Reflecting on Engagement in the Social Age

The Social Age is a time of constant change: evolving technology, the new nature of work, the rise of social communities and the democratisation of creativity being just some of the most visible facets. The old social contract is broken: the organisation no longer guarantees a job for life and individuals no longer expect it. Instead, it’s down to them to curate their portfolio career through multiple industries, opportunities and spaces.

Ecosystem of the Social Age 2015

A map of the Social Age

We need to actively build the culture, learning spaces and leadership that will let us thrive through this change and hence to be attractive to the very best talent.

The Social Age is the context in which we recruit. And old models of engagement, development and working will not allow us to thrive in this new space. We are moving away from ‘learning’ being something you do and then use, towards a space where learning is something you do whilst you are performing. We are ever reliant on our communities (both formal, social and everything in between) to help us make sense of it, to help us be agile.

This ‘sense making’ function of community is important: in a time of constant change, we cannot thrive through prescribed and systematised responses to situations, but rather rely on agility, in mindset and action: the ability to solve problems today, one way, then solve them again, tomorrow, differently. This agility needs to be encoded in every corner of the organisation. If the permission to do this is not granted, it will be claimed.

Technology won’t save us from change, but, used correctly, it can facilitate the ‘sense making’ and sharing behaviours that will. As our relationship with knowledge itself continues to evolve, what you know becomes less important than your ability to find things out and make sense of them, then do something with that knowledge, within and alongside your communities.

Other things change too: leadership itself needs to adapt. Alongside our formal, hierarchical, positional authority, we need to build Social Leadership, contextual and consensual of the community. This Social Leadership complements our formal authority but, crucially, can also be generated by people with no formal authority whatsoever. Your organisation is tied together by paths of social connectivity and reputation that are invisible to any formal structure.

This is significant when we look at retention of graduates: they join with no instinctive expectation of a long term career in your organisation (even if they think they have career in your industry). They already have social authority and will doubtless continue to grow it (possibly in contrast to your formal hierarchy which is unaware it even exists). The graduate scheme is effectively just free education: people will not stay unless they are invested in the future, and the conversation to get them invested is two way.

This is not about career planning or performance management: it’s about creating opportunities for the organisation to benefit from this tacit, tribal wisdom, to co-create a story that people can invest themselves in.

To retain great talent, we don’t need to train them to love us: we need to show them love. We need to be willing to recognise that our ability to give them knowledge alone is no longer enough: knowledge is democratised and freely available. It’s the community that counts, and their community may not even sit fully within the organisation (and even if it does, it’s portable: it’s the only thing that will stay with us throughout our ‘career’).

The future of organisations is to be scaffolded and reconfigurable: providing spaces and permissions for people to engage and be rewarded for engaging.

Future Organisations

Any Social Learning solution will be built against this background: it will remain live over time, engaging individuals in an authentically phrased, long term conversation about what they can learn from the organisation and what the organisation can learn from them. The structure of the programme will be co-created, co-written and co-owned, partly by the organisation, partly by the individual themselves. Within a narrative framework, that lets us frame it, but according to the priorities of both parties.

When we get this right, we provide opportunities, for people to shape their own (and the organisational) future state and to invest something of themselves within it, and that’s what they buy into. And that’s what will attract them in and keep them with us for the next chapter of their journey, as high functioning, highly engaged community members, helping your organisation to get fit for the Social Age.

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Change Curve: Generating or Losing Momentum in Change

I’m expanding on the Change Curve framework at the moment. So far i’ve introduced the framework, explored 16 Resisters of Change and 16 Amplifiers, as well as looking at the Antibody Effect in Detail. Today, i’m pausing to look at a high level at change, in particular, how we generate momentum or lose it. The primary message of the Change Curve framework is the move from being Resistant to change, through to Constrained, then finally to Dynamic. The Resistant organisation loses momentum whilst the Dynamic one builds it.

The Change Curve: Generating Momentum in Change

Today, i’m not writing a full article, but rather developing some imagery for the full model, and sharing a few thoughts around it (one challenge is with #WorkingOutLoud is giving yourself permission not to feel the need to only release complete work. This is work in progress, fragments of a full story that is being written over weeks).

The Dynamic organisation understands and uses mechanisms of amplification and co-creation to take embryonic ideas, the initial intent, and to gather momentum. If we get it right, the change story evolves and takes on a momentum of it’s own.

The Change Curve: Losing Momentum in Change

The Resistant organisation kills the energy, it muddles along and becomes increasingly lethargic. It is infra-structurally unable to change. The sixteen Resisters contribute to this lethargy. The 16 Amplifiers can add to the energy.

The 16 Resisters of change

Everything we are looking at within the Change Curve framework is intended to assist us in mastering these amplifying mechanisms and spreading them within the organisation, immunising it to lethargy.

Amplifiers of Change

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Change Curve: The Constrained Organisation

I’ve been introducing the Change Curve, a framework for dynamic organisational change in the Social Age. It identifies three manifestations of change: ‘Resisted‘, where the organisation deploys antibodies and kills the change, ‘Constrained‘, where the organisations wants to change, but won’t relinquish control, and ‘Dynamic‘, which is the state we are aiming for, where change is amplified and embraced, giving us true agility. Most organisations get to ‘Constrained‘ and stick there, churning away. Their heads are still above water, but they’re getting nowhere.

Dynamic Change in the Social Age

The Social Age is characterised by constant change: in our technology, in organisational structures, in our patterns of travel and work, in our social communities. There is no one system, mechanism or process that can let us thrive, except agility: the ability to ‘figure it out‘, time and again, often facilitated by technology, but crucially alongside and within our communities.

The agile organisation displays greater fluidity of response than the hierarchical one: it’s able to reconfigure itself according to need. That ability to reconfigure in response to pressure and demand comes through the creation of facilitating mindsets and structures, where people are primarily engaged with the notions of change, less with the hierarchies and systems of power. It’s a culture where Social Authority prevails, subverting or trumping the formal and hierarchical. In practical terms, it means that people who are collaborative, supportive, effective and purposeful gain reputation and Social Authority along the way. If you are invested in the future state, an agent of change, then your voice will be heard.

Social Authority

What of the relationship between formal and Social Authority? Are we advocating for anarchy? Not in the least: social reputation, earned within communities, is available to everyone, founded purely on the actions we take and the investment we make in others. That social reputation is the foundation of our Social Authority, which is what gives Social Leaders their power, but it’s available to all. Formal leaders can develop Social Authority that will complement their hierarchical power and enable them to form, engage in and support communities more effectively. But everyone else can also develop Social Authority, based on their own actions within the community.

Social Authority is democratised, distributed and contextual, so a formal leader may have it in one context, at one time, but not in all contexts at all times. Hence also that anyone else in the organisation may have contextual and time bound Social Authority, the ability to lead a community in ‘sense making’ functions. Whilst formal authority is a manifestation of the hierarchy, Social Authority is a function of the community. It’s distributed and unlimited. I’m talking about it here, because of one specific outcome of the socially enabled organisation: control.

Organisational Change: the Control Effect

Formal organisations have clear reaches of control, clear responsibility and clear accountability. That’s still true in the social organisation, but with the caveat that Social Leaders exist outside of formal structures and may actually be the ones getting stuff done (the ‘stuff‘, in this case, including change). A limiting factor can therefore be how the organisation responds to socially moderated mechanisms of change, where the change originates from or is owned within, the social community. In other words, if it’s not ‘official‘, how does the organisation respond.

Does it deploy antibodies to kill it, or does it amplify and enhance it? That’s the difference between a resistant and a dynamic change space, but the picture is not always that clear.

Change Curve - The Antibody Effect - churning

There are good reasons for organisational hierarchy and control, not least of which are to insulate the organisation from unacceptable risk. The question here is, ‘what constitutes risk?‘, and the attitude required is not ‘how do we avoid it?‘, but ‘how do we use it?‘. Risk in itself is not bad: it’s just opportunity. The agile organisation has to recognise when risk is the fuel of change, and when it’s the fire that may consume us. It’s a fine balance, but without risk, without taking some risk on, we can’t thrive.

So how does this relate to change?

Change starts with intent: either from within or imposed from the outside. That intent moves to awareness: a broad anticipation of change. As we saw in the last article, in the Resistant organisation, this is where the antibodies deploy, smothering the conversation and tangling the embryonic change community in process, system, control, denial and lethargy. In the Constrained organisation though, the antibodies are held at bay and we move to action: projects start, conversations run, momentum and energy are pumped in from the organisation in the form of resources, spaces and permission.

Initially the momentum is external, fuel that is bought by the formal hierarchy of the organisation: it ‘initiates‘ change, forms formal communities, dedicates resources and seconds people onto projects. It rewires the architecture, throws the switches and pumps the pedal to the metal. This is all good: but it’s ultimately still a ‘push‘ model. The change is still owned by the organisation: both the direction and route-map.

Organisations can be socially enabled because they want to be, or because that permission is claimed by the community. In other words, social engagement, the formation of change communities, does not just happen because we want it to: it happens because the community wants it to. The difference is that one is formally sanctioned, whilst the other is formally tolerated.

In either case though, once momentum has been given, once the gates have opened, the social communities start to operate, which is precisely what we want to happen in a co-created, co-owned model of change. We start to get engagement and energy from within the community. Ideas start to emerge.

The Co-Creation and Co-Ownership of Change

Organisational change is more likely to succeed if it’s co-created and co-owned

Let’s just pause a moment to examine what we mean by a ‘co-created and co-owned‘ model of change. Essentially it’s about investment: where are you invested in the organisation? In formal, hierarchical models, individuals are often invested in the status quo, because their formal power is invested in it. Their power is grounded upon position and it forms the foundations of their authority. To change the position changes the power, which may not be a desired outcome.

In a Social Authority model though, authority is founded upon reputation, divorced from any anchor to formal position, so we can more easily be invested in change, and it’s that investment that we are looking for.

In a co-created and co-owned model, the organisation can still frame the direction of travel, but it relies on the community to co-create the conversation. This provides space for people to visualise and realise their part in the future state, and it’s that process which is vital for momentum, because by being part of shaping the change, people can be invested in it. And if they are invested in change, they will fight for it.

All good so far: so how does an organisation become Constrained?

Essentially because they are unwilling or unable to abandon the last vestiges of control: they want the future state, and they may be tantalisingly close to getting it, as they start to see and feel the benefits of an engaged change community, but they ultimately resort to formal definitions and expressions of power, authority and control. Ultimately, they kill their own potential by throwing on the brakes. The organisation becomes Constrained through an inability to relinquish control to enter a truly co-creative model.

It’s probably a false question: by default, most organisations already are Constrained. We recognise the truly agile organisation because they stand out as Dynamic.

What does this look like in practice: i am working with an organisation, heavily committed to more social ways of working. But they’ve paralysed themselves by adding layers of moderation to a social community. They’ve imposed formal controls in a social space, and it’s crazy not to see how this is killing it. You can have social spaces, where people kick things around and conduct ‘sense making‘ activities. Or you can have formal spaces, where they will say what they think you want them to say. But you can’t impose formal controls on social spaces, without just making them formal! Remember, ‘social‘ is not a function of technology: you can have someone sell you a ‘social‘ system, but it’s how you use it that counts.

Are all the ideas that come out of communities good? No. But it’s not about getting the right idea first time, it’s about exploring all the ideas and having the right mechanisms (and mindsets) to filter and improve them. Because by the same token, it’s co-creative. Whilst you can’t achieve momentum and purposeful outcomes just with formal mechanisms, neither can you achieve it just through social ones: it’s co-creative and co-owned. You need both. So you still have a hand in the game as the organisation. It’s just that you don’t own it. You are in the conversation, but the conversation is co-owned.

That comes down to small actions and large mindsets.

In the Constrained organisation, the controlling aspects predominate. Through small actions or large, they default to formal control, gently stifling the change and perpetuating the lethargy. Like the organisation i mentioned above: they have invested in the technology and even engaged the community, but through an isolated action of control, they are losing agility. Constrained organisations are not failed, but they are not winning either. They are stuck in the churn, through an inability to unleash their own burgeoning potential.

Change or Churn?

Most organisations manage to get out of ‘Resistant‘, get stuck at ‘Constrained‘. They look busy, they feel busy, they even feel good about themselves, but they are not fully enabled. In two years time, they will feel substantially the same, and ‘the same’ is not a good thing in an ecosystem that demands ever greater agility.

The Social Age is a time of constant change: it requires agility in action, system and mindset to survive, to thrive. We want systems that allow for both organisational input, but also the co-creative excellence of communities. After all, that’s what you hired them for: to be excellent.

To move from Constrained to Dynamic, we have to overcome the Control effect, which i’ll explore in more detail later.

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