Today, we finalise the letter C in our A to Z of OD. We have seen C is for Culture, and C is for Creating the right Climate for Culture to Flourish. Today, we consider the big one. Today, we consider Change itself. It is a huge topic and I have considered it from the perspective of OD as a humanistic, systemic approach to achieving sustainable change.
This post was in part inspired by my former colleague Francis Lake. Francis is Head of OD at Clydesdale and Yorkshire Banking Group; he reminded me of the importance of the emotional response to change and the need to think long-term when planning change.
C is for Change
It strikes me, from my experience of facilitating transformational change in many different organisations, that change often appears to be driven from the ‘outside-in’. Typically, this is in response to the external environment, economic considerations or technological developments. This is clearly rational; however, it can lead to short-term changes being implemented that do not last long.
More sustainable, long-term change requires changing from the ‘inside-out’. This requires consideration of the whole organisational system. It starts by looking internally at how different parts of the organisation are aligned to meet its primary purpose (see the A to Z of OD Part I) against those external factors, i.e. understanding that the whole system includes the external stakeholders and operating environment.
Earlier in Part III of the A to Z of OD, we explored culture and the importance of creating the right climate for culture to flourish. There are three core factors that combine to motivate employees to take on change: feeling safe (adequate reward and psychological safety), social factors (working relationships and recognition) and self-actualising factors (autonomy and personal development).
As I outlined in The A to Z of OD: C is for Culture, managers’ and leaders’ behaviours – such as more participative management styles, colleague engagement, recognition and rewards and encouraging personal development – both enact and symbolise the culture by stimulating motivation so that organisations access discretionary effort from their workforce.
That notwithstanding, people fear change. They are apt at romantically reconstructing the past through rose-tinted spectacles, editing it to create myths of a glorious bygone age. This is organisational nostalgia.
Organisational nostalgia is often at odds with the case for change, which is expressed optimistically, yet rationally, in formal business cases and enacted through tightly-controlled project disciplines. This future-oriented approach explicitly hides emotions. People get the message that emotions are bad; nostalgia is bad. And like some movie of a dystopian future where the (emotional) humans battle against the (rational) machines, “Resistance is Futile!”
You can see how this might represent a major (psychological) problem.
By recognising both these opposing positions, I believe OD must build a case for change by taking a different perspective; revealing rather than denying the nostalgics’ stories from the emotional past, the reality of the present and the optimistic journey to the future. This requires a process-centred approach to change, rather than a destination-focused project plan.
Outside-in vs inside-out
- Help individuals recognise and challenge their natural responses to change
- Adopt a process-centred approach to change
- Select a change strategy to promote motivation rather than tackle resistance
- Tap into emotional nostalgia to better understand the past and how the organisation got to where it is today before visioning the future and how to get there.
This, I believe, is how long-term, sustainable change is delivered.
OD Thought Leader: Stephen R. Covey (1932 – 2012)
Based on his PhD research into world religions and other codes of practice throughout human history, Covey synthesised a list of seven habits that encourage people to live principled lives, and to choose to change from the inside-out rather than decide to change purely as a response to external influences.
The first three habits encourage people to move from being dependent to being independent: (1) be proactive, (2) begin with the end in mind and (3) put first things first. The skills that underpin these three habits are often described in organisations as positive behaviours and offered as personal development interventions, i.e. (1) taking accountability, (2) aligning activity to an overall mission and (3) prioritising important work over work that is simply urgent.
The next three habits are about moving from independence to interdependence: (4) think ‘win-win’, (5) seek first to understand, then to be understood and (6) syergize. These are often offered in OD as team development, e.g. (4) collaborative working, (5) coaching skills and (6) teamworking so that more can be achieved than working alone.
Habit 7, Sharpen the Saw, aims to promote the concept of continuous learning. In OD, this aligns to the concept of the Learning Organisation.
Whilst written from the perspective of personal development, there is much to learn in Seven Habits from an organisation development perspective. I particularly like the way Covey draws from fundamental principles of what is to be human as taught be elders throughout history, across the world, and makes it relevant to today’s organisational context.
Recommended reading: Covey, S. (2004). The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. London, Simon & Schuster.