Change in the Social Age: the Three Manifestations of Change

My second full day of writing this week on the new book on change in the Social Age: stronger progress today. In total, I’ve worked on half a dozen early sections, which introduce the change curve itself, and discuss in detail the three manifestations of change. Instead of trying to rework what was there already, I’ve substantially written the three core sections afresh. These cover the Constrained organisation, the Resistant organisation, and the Dynamic organisation.

Change Curve - The Antibody Effect - churning

This is actually the first time I’ve entirely rewritten sections of such a complete manuscript: normally I find it hard to delete whole pages and rewrite them, but this is where the dictation software really comes into its own. I can have the old text on the iPad by my side, as well as a printout in my hand, and I can rewrite it whilst scanning the original. It’s actually quite satisfying, but I think I’m reaping the benefits having put this manuscript down since around July last year. I no longer feel so closely wedded to every word, indeed some of them feel decidedly outdated as my ideas have moved on.

As well as writing around 2,500 new words today, I have continued to evolve the overall structure. I think, or live in hope, that it is getting stronger. The introduction now has a few pages to introduce the book, which I shared yesterday, and then moves into talking about the manifestations of change. I get straight into talking about the three states of constraint, resistance, and dynamic. From here I go into the change curve itself, which describes how we end up in each of those states. If you look back to my original writing, shared on the blog over a year ago, those sections with the other way round, which in my mind now makes no sense.

Change Curve - The Antibody Effect - types of antibody

I have also bought forward the section on the antibody effect: this now sits as part of the section on the Resistant organisation. I’m still in two minds on this, as it interrupts the flow before I discuss the Dynamic organisation, but where it sat originally, it felt too late in the text.

The Socially Dynamic Organisation

The main open question for me at the moment is where I introduce the notion of the Socially Dynamic organisation. You may remember that this arrived fairly late in the writing process, in fact I only started writing about this late last year, but it has been very well received, and I think unifies the whole body of work. So my choices either to talk about it as one of the three states, so I talk about the Socially Dynamic organisation from the start, or I stick with what I have, which talks about the dynamic organisation in terms of agility alone, and use the final chapter to introduce the Socially Dynamic organisation as the thing that we end up with. I suspect I will go with the former option. I realise it may not be clear to follow this as I describe it now, but forgive me as I #WorkOutLoud and share my thinking as I go.

The rest of today’s post comprises the section introducing the three manifestations of change, shared as usual typos and all, hot off the press, and subject to change!

Three Manifestations of Change

In this section, I want to consider how organisations change. They exhibit predictable patterns of activity in the face of change and we can categorise these as ‘Resistant’ behaviours, ‘Constrained’ behaviours, and ‘Dynamic’ behaviours.

This story takes us from the ‘Resistant’ organisation, which is inherently in denial of change and actively strangles conversations and communities which challenge it’s lethargy, through to ‘Constrained’ organisations, who both recognise the need to change and are working hard to achieve it, and yet fall into churning as they are unable to relinquish the requisite control, and finally to the ‘Socially Dynamic’ organisation, adapted in thought and deed.

Resistance is about denial and lethargy, Constraint is about good intentions with little effect, and Dynamic is about transformation and agility. It’s probably easier to spot where the organisation sits from the outside than from within, and many organisations will exhibit aspects of all three at the same time. Once we move on to consider how we transform our own organisation, we will need to diagnose which parts of our organisation sit in which space.

It’s easy to spot a Resistant organisation, and equally easy to find truly Dynamic ones. The muddiness inevitably falls in the middle, and is best expressed by those organisations who think they are changing, but are actually churning, and those organisations who understand that change is afoot, but mis-categorise it, and think it will all go away, or is not relevant to them.

Hoping it will go away, the ostrich approach, is a short lived strategy. Churning is much harder to identify and deal with, because organisations in churn, who are Constrained, both want to change and believe that they are changing, and yet somehow they remain unfit for the future, unable to thrive.

Most organisations get stuck at Constraint.

Before we look at these three states in more detail, let’s consider a change curve that takes us on the journey from intent, to transformation.

[DIAGRAM – The Change Curve]

This change curve illustrates that journey: around the lines fall three spaces, the spaces that we fall into and which can trap us.

A deliberate change journey starts with intent: a recognition that change is needed, by at least one individual or sub community within an organisation. This may be a group within a formal hierarchy, the formal ‘leadership’, or it may be engaged individuals at other levels. The impetus for change maybe internally moderated, coming from an internal understanding and need, or it may be externally motivated, imposed despite our best wishes by changing market conditions, the emergence of disruptive technologies or business models, or new social needs. Whatever the case, change starts with an intent: an intent to be different, an intent to move away from the current state.

There follows a process of socialisation: building awareness of the need for change and the direction of travel. In formal contexts, this tends to be accompanied by the design of formal communication (which shows the organisational version of the change narrative). When the positioning is complete, we move to activity.

Indeed, it’s at these early stages of the change journey that formal approaches fail fast, even though it often takes them many years to realise it. They fail because they assume that change is a known journey, a journey where you can map out all the stops along the way, and they fail because they believe that the formal organisation has both all the knowledge and all the answers to keep us safe along the way.

In fact, whilst you may have a sense of the destination, change journeys tend to be erratic and of variable tempo. The more you try to control them, the more they slip through your fingers. It’s easy to change the hard architecture of an organisation: the places where people sit, the lines of accountability, the budgets, the aspirational statements. Changing the social dynamic is much harder, and yet only through changing these underlying structures in a collaborative and co-creative manner can we succeed.

It’s at this point, where we have widespread awareness of the need for change, and where organisations often look to impose a plan and timescale for change, that the model splits.

If we follow one path, we gain momentum, and ultimately transformation. If we follow the other pass we fall to churning, and get dragged back into lethargy. There is nothing preconceived about either of these states: both are achievable, dependent on mindset and approach. Organisations that end up constrained deserve it because they exhibit constrained behaviours. Similarly, organisations that end up Socially Dynamic deserve the rewards that they reap, because they have engineered themselves into this new space.

That’s the thing about constraint: whilst aspects of it can be imposed upon us, much of it is willingly built around us, and we build it around ourselves.

When presenting this work recently, a client told me a familiar story: “what you have to understand is that this organisation is like an oil tanker, and it takes forever to change”. This is a well known fable, a much travelled story of how organisations operate, and yet we fail to spot that we build the oil tanker around ourselves. Nobody put us on board the ship: we built it because we liked the power, the mass, the momentum. Similarly, nobody will take us off it: it will be down to us to build a more suitable vessel. The reasons we throw down as reasons this will fail are simply the excuses of those not brave enough to try.

The Social Age is deeply unforgiving of the resistant or constrained organisation: there is little pleasure to be had in sitting on the stern rail as the bow slips under the water, and we listen to the band playing whilst saying how inevitable it was that we would sink.

So, at this early stage, at the point of awareness, we make a fundamental decision. Will we take a formal view of change, which will be reassuringly solid and visible, but whose mass and momentum may make it slow and cumbersome, or will we take a more social and cocreated approach, where we will have to relinquish control, but may be able to avoid the churn and lethargy.

When we try to maintain a formal view of change, we often move into churning activities: the rollout of workshops, IT projects, training, a plethora of activity intended to induce momentum and movement in a population. Often it doesn’t. Often it just churns: everyone is busy, everything is juddering and shaking, lots of activity is taking place: but this is not change. It’s churn.

I cannot be clear enough about the perils of churning: these are good organisations, well-intentioned, often deeply successful in the current space, but the trappings of success prevent them being able to change.

This book is about the Dynamic Change Framework, it’s about how we follow the top path, how we avoid churning, and instead find momentum. When we find it? We find it from within. It’s the momentum of the engaged community, is the inspiration and energy that we find deeply held in the tacit and tribal wisdom of our communities.

The model for transformative change in the Social Age is to set a direction of travel, but to co-create the detail. Why? Because through this process of co-creation, we are able to become invested in the change, we are able to shape it. Only by having this engagement and investment can we move out of churn and into change itself.

The notion of being invested in change is important: it all comes down to individual agency, and a willingness to engage. Under formal models of change, with informal change journeys, we often lack individual agency, and the power of key individuals is held within the current state. Under the Socially Dynamic model of change, we are powered by the collective effort of all the individual agency, and key individuals are able and willing to relinquish their formal current power in favour of a new, socially moderated, reputation-based, social form of leadership.

Organisations that get stuck at ‘churn’ appear to be busy, but their efforts will increasingly leave them adrift of where they need to be. An organisation that is churning cannot get traction or momentum, and without momentum, we cannot hit transformation.

What you need to know:

1. I describe three manifestations of change: ‘Resistant’, ‘Constrained’ and ‘Dynamic’
2. Older models of change would shape a story and impose it on the organisation
3. ‘Churning’ is a dangerous state, where the organisation believes it’s adapting

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
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6 Responses to Change in the Social Age: the Three Manifestations of Change

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