I’m elaborating aspects of the Change Curve framework, a piece of work i’m developing to help organisations move from ‘Resistant‘ to change to ‘Dynamic‘. This is one of a series of articles unpacking the new model around segmenting resistance.
Restricting flow of information is a time honoured way of attempting to exert control: it’s most often manifest by formalising technology and removing permission to dissent. Whilst the restriction of technology is often positioned by the organisation as a way of reducing risk and complexity, an either intentional or emergent side effect is to formalise the spaces to we communicate in and, by default, to make that communication visible to external, hierarchical authority. The effect may not be intentional, but nonetheless, it exists.
I don’t mean to demean some of the good reasons that organisations need to control information in certain contexts, for compliance, for security, for protection of patient or commercially sensitive data, but even in these contexts, there can be reasons to leave space clear for free conversation. By attempting to own every space, the organisation does, in any event, simply move the conversation to external spaces, where it’s out of sight, but not disappeared completely.
Controlling the channels of communication never prevents communication: it just makes stark the lack of permission and prompts creative attempts to subvert the authority. Opening up spaces to communicate and collaborate is a key aspect of eroding resistance and building a foundation for change.
When we look at how organisations resist change through manipulation or ownership of communication, we see four elements: ‘Stasis’, ‘Broadcast’, ‘Ownership’, ‘Authenticity‘.
Stasis behaviours are exhibited when stories are held static, owned and controlled through hierarchy: stasis is an enemy of co-creation.
Broadcast models hold ownership within formal channels: they are one way, top down and resist attempts to democratise storytelling. They are an enemy of tacit and tribal stories, a strong anchor against change.
Ownership of storytelling removes permission for others to contribute: it disempowers individuals who sit outside formal storytelling groups, which reduces equality, reduces dissent, but also reduces agility. It’s an insidious exertion of control that strongly reduces the ability to change and to share stories of change.
Authenticity is key to engagement and retention: when my bank plays me a message on the phone saying ‘We are experiencing unusually high levels of calls, but please hold as your call is important to us‘, what i hear is ‘we are not interested in you‘. Their story lacks authenticity. Finding authenticity may simply be a matter of giving people their own voice.
We need to consider each of these elements of resistance and explore how to deal with them in our newly created external space. Once we figure that out, we can use our Bridging conversations to link them back into the organisation itself.
The way to counter ‘stasis‘ in communication, which is where to organisation resists any change to it’s story, is not to attack, but rather to subvert through magnetism. Not by attempting to rewrite the official story, which is confrontational and challenges the authority of the teams that currently own them, but rather by sharing iterative and alternative stories, in an open manner and a spirit of enquiry. By creating new stories that invite contribution and adaptation, we can involve both existing and new voices. By doing so in an open spirit of enquiry, we can resist the organisations urge to remove our permission to do so.
The difference between the formal, organisational view, and the co-created community narrative is what we are trying to unearth: we do not want to silence the static organisational voice, simply to expose it to our own, community based, strong and diverse narratives so that everyone can learn together: it is, after all, that process of learning, of co-writing and co-creating that sits at the centre of a Dynamic approach. But we have to start small by claiming a space to engage.
The way to start these conversations is not to ask for a permission, bur rather to ask for contributions to an embryonic story. Essentially we are creating magnetic stories that we are inviting people to edit, not positioning alternative views in conflict with the formal.
Reducing stasis is not a matter of confronting it, but rather inducing momentum by injecting energy. Claiming a constructive permission.
If we are successful, we start to see formal, controlled stories, surrounded by semi formal and co-created ones. If we do so by engaging the owners of the formal stories, we are moving away from resistance. If we find the organisation killing them off, removing permission or moderating the space, we may need to start signposting this at more senior levels: asking the question ‘why’, and remembering that curiosity is a defining feature of agility. If we kill curiosity, we lose our ability to change.