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.
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.
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.
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.
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.