Change. We invite it in for the change we want and do our best to keep it at bay for what we don’t. Yet, change is a part of our lives – wanted or not, expected or not. So, if we can’t always arrange its appearance to meet our wishes, what do we do when we’re in the midst of it? Can we manage it? Predict its outcome?
Sometimes yes and other times no. You might first think that this quandary, with no clear answer, presents a problem; however it doesn’t. Rather the possibilities of “Yes” and “No” ask us to look deeper. Here, in the unseen dynamic layers of change, we discover new dimensions of understanding.
Change is like sailing into the wind. It challenges us to understand what we have control over and what we don’t.
David Whyte in his book The Heart Aroused suggests that an underlying assumption of organizational life is that we are in control: that is, with sufficient process, standards and projections we can get where we want to go. We head into change the same way – analyzing where we are, where we want to go, and plotting our path forward – complete with plans and budgets.
Whether we’re setting sail on the ocean or in a business venture, its good to have a destination and a plan. But, it’s only the beginning. The question is: Are we ready for what shows up next?
Sailors know the winds are in charge. But for us in organizations, it’s easy to forget that others – customers, team, investors, community – are in charge. We move forward with our plans and then others decide how they will react, what they will do or not, and how long it takes. Will they follow our predicted path or find a new one?
A number of years ago, a new client came with a conundrum: 9 months before, they had carefully analyzed, planned, communicated, and embarked on a reorganization. Had the team been excited? Yes. Did the plan make sense? Yes. Did the team believe it was doable? Yes. Once in the new framework, were the individuals on the team able to shift their ways of doing business? No.
Having set sail for a new destination, the company found itself back where it started. It was time to think differently: they could control the processes, but the individuals were in charge of their personal response and behavior. Now what?
In the midst of change, we’re presented with the challenge of combining the reality of two opposing forces. On one hand we’re charged with managing and leading the process of change while continuing to deliver products, services and a profit. On the other hand, people are our primary resource of talent and expertise, and they bring their individual perspectives, attitudes, and needs about change with them.
The question is how might we flow between between the needed structures and the always present individualities? Here are some ideas to consider.
Build a great structure for the change to happen. Then, let it be flexible to flow with what happens next.
Analysis, plans, timelines, projections, communication ground the change. They let the team know their role, a course of action, what’s expected. It also alerts them to the reality that the unexpected will happen and it gives them a sense of direction for what to do when it does.
Understand the capabilities you need and think about who on the team can help.
The Myers Briggs framework is a great example of how to think about this. Every change process needs each of the 4 Myers Briggs types: individuals who can inspire the change, design it, run it, and do whatever is needed to do to serve it. Likewise, each member of the team has a preferred type that informs their approach to change. It’s a powerful asset when we augment the change process with the teams’ natural perspectives and strengths of their type.
Whatever the plan, create experience and access your emotional intelligence to see what’s working.
In organizations, we have the plan. We have what others tell us they are doing within the plan. And, we have what they are actual doing. Understanding what is working and not working across these 3 perspectives is key to the process. It will highlight results and what needs to be modified. It will strengthen clarity of communication across the team. And, it will uncover operational incongruities and resistance, conscious or not, so you can address them and move forward.
Whatever our plan and approach to change, perhaps most intense part is befriending it… accepting it… embracing it… wanted and unwanted. After all, change is life’s innate nature. Days pass and move into the next day. Rivers flow, water drops leaving each rock behind. Our body regenerates one cell at at time, bringing newness in each cycle.
So what might it look like for us to befriend change? Perhaps it’s being curious about life’s adventures – doing what we can and seeing what happens next. Perhaps it’s consciously allowing life to co-create with us, bringing it’s possibilities into the realm of our own. Or perhaps it’s simply reminding us to take a moment and see how far we’ve come and the impact we’ve had in life, in our organizations. Control and out of control – Structure and flow – All wrapped into one.
Thanks for reading!