What Do We Need to Change About Change?

From WilderWeber Leadership Group, a VT KnowledgeWorks member company:

It is not the strongest species that survive,
nor the most intelligent,
but the ones most responsive to change.
– Charles Darwin

Paula Wilder and Carol WeberImagine 100 people linked by hierarchy trying to create change.   We’ve all experienced this at one time or another – when it's a challenge to get to flawless execution on the part of the whole.  Imagine these same 100 people united by a deep commitment and sense of urgency connected in ways that create open-mindedness and support fluid information sharing and responsive solutions.  Which group is more likely to get to the desired change through flawless execution?

How we’ve done change in the past mostly hasn’t worked.  To get  significant results, organizational research demonstrates that we have  to think COALITION.  And, we have to continually focus on expanding  COALITION POTENTIAL.

Most organizations recognize that they can’t keep doing change the same old way.  So many organizational processes, perfected in the 20th century, are based on our extraordinary abilities to Decide and Execute.  In today’s turbulent environment, too often figuring out what information/data/perspectives result in good decisions can be a baffling challenge even for experienced executives – whether it’s shifting regulations, the impact of political elections, tightened quality expectations, or imploding global economies.

How can we do a better of job of ensuring that we are making decisions based on the “right” information?  Brain research tells us that we humans are attracted to Hazards (burning platforms) rather than to Opportunities.   It appears we may be wired that way.   The burning platform feels real, the opportunity ephemeral or risky.  Yet it's seeing opportunities that propels us forward and gets results.

How can we discipline ourselves to stay open, really open, to opportunities that we tend to be blind to?  Hierarchy creates blindness by keeping people in “cages,” if you will.   We hear a lot about “out of the box” thinking.  We suggest that the idea of cage is more apt because people can see outside of their space (their box), but they can’t see much.  Worse, people create the cages – whether it's others who cage you or you who cage yourself.  How can we create  “out of the cage” thinking? To do that well, it helps to link diverse perspectives in new ways to create the organizational sight for opportunity.  You may be asking yourself, "But isn't control (hierarchy and cages) a good thing?"  Yes – as long it's not over-control or the wrong controls.  Too often, our fears create too much control.

For leaders at every level, the challenge is to sustain meaningful urgency.   Without urgency or dissatisfaction, change doesn’t happen or doesn't happen sustainably.  How can leaders continually fuel a change message that links the need to change to a rationale that inspires people to engage?

Leaders can help by ensuring that people in the coalition are drawn to the positive promise of the future.   Creating effective individual and organizational change responses system-wide will likely be the central guiding quest of organizational leaders in the next decade. 

  • What opportunities is your organization blind to?
  • What are the smallest things you could tackle that would make the biggest difference?
  • How can you strengthen a sense of coalition?
  • How can you improve your organization’s change response?


WilderWeber Leadership Group is a business consulting firm dedicated to helping leaders build sustainable advantage by facilitating change initiatives that deliver competitive marketplace focus and amplify organizational effectiveness.

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