Unleashing the Power of Organic Change

Any business has to change to succeed. That’s why Six Sigma, Lean and a host of other change management approaches have become so popular.

The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.

– Alan Watts

But truly successful change doesn’t come from the outside or from above. It emerges organically from a culture in which change is an integral part.

Leaving the Change Question Behind

The battle over change management used to revolve around the word ‘change’. Managers didn’t want to face the difficult choices and challenges involved in transforming their processes and becoming something better.

For those businesses that matter, the fight has moved on. Enough managers have embraced the need for constant re-evaluation and reinvention that those businesses without them are naturally left in the dust. Leading now isn’t about standing out from these dinosaurs, but about standing out from the other cavemen as we all rub management sticks together, hoping to replicate the fire of improvement.

The new battle is over the ‘management’ in change management. As long as change comes from above, employees may accept it but they are unlikely to truly embrace it. We need to stop ‘managing’ change and instead create the conditions for it to naturally arise.

Clearing the Path

If you want employees to embrace change then you need to reward them for making improvements. This is such an obvious and attractive prospect, with the glitz of awards ceremonies and the clear satisfaction of bonuses and promotions, that it misses something even more fundamental.

Before starting to reward change, you need to remove the blockages, the processes and ways of working that make change harder. This is a more difficult prospect, as it means taking a hard look at ways of working that may have existed for years, that may even be taken for granted. It can create its own sources of resistance. It is the first and most difficult change.

But just think of what will happen if you offer rewards without removing the blockages. Some people will overcome them or avoid them, taking on easier improvements, and be rewarded for this. Many more will become frustrated, unable to earn those prizes and bonuses because the business itself stands in the way of change. That will build resentment against attempts at change, rather than fostering them.

You need to clear the path before you start walking.

Being Part of the Experience

As with learning and development, employees are more likely to engage in change if they can see that you are experiencing it too. Share your own experiences, good and bad. Let them know if a change disrupts your work or makes you uncomfortable, and show them why you embraced it anyway.

If you have an idea for a change that works then share that widely, but share the ones that don’t work as well. Show that you are as proud of the ideas that didn’t work out as the ones that did, and in doing so you’ll encourage others to take the same attitude. This helps overcome the natural fear people feel at putting themselves on the line by challenging accepted wisdom or sharing their precious ideas in an arena where they might be criticized.

Change is never going to be without its difficulties. But if you can remove the worst of the obstacles, and if you can show people that you face those obstacles too, then you can encourage a culture in which change emerges naturally from the day-to-day work. Then there will be no more need for change management. There will just be change.