Organisational Change – keep it simple
Organisational change can be challenging, frightening,
daunting… but it can also be exhilarating and wonderful.
never the same – you are always learning whether
as a beginner in leading change or as someone with more
experience. Each time, even with the ‘same’ group
of people, it is different.
Everyone knows change is inevitable, we just wish it
would happen to someone else. Change in
organisations, likewise! And the worst of it is
when the change is imposed from above and we must toe
the line. Bearing that in mind, when you are
leading change it is good to remember how you feel
about being told when it happens to you. Think
about how you would like to hear and experience whatever
intervention you are thinking of making and let this
help you to make your choice(s).
In our experience, there are three basic kinds of change:
Kinds Of Change
Systemic Transformational Change
Targeted Change Management
How can I make this organization more effective?
How do I implement this new recognition system?
How do we make sure the new VP gets on board
Ambiguity & Complexity
Low to Moderate
Focus of Change
Individuals and groups
Time Frame for Results
Medium to Long Term
Type of tools to use
�Worley and Lustig, 2004
Each change needs different handling and – as you can see
– has a different time frame. And each different
type of change will require you to use methods from a
different place on the change continuum. With
Transition Assurance you can use quite structured
methods while with systemic transformational change, you
will need to use emergent methods to be successful.
However, even with whole system change, there will be
parts that can be done in a structured manner – it
needn’t all be emergent.
This may all sound like gobble-de-gook so let’s give you
an example of each. A structured tool is something
like doing a stakeholder map and then making a
communication plan (say using a spreadsheet) for each
stakeholder on the map. In the plan it indicates
who will communicate with the stakeholder, in what way
and when. It is useful to also indicate where the
stakeholder is with regards to the change (traffic
lights are useful here: green for on target, orange for
needing some work and red for caution – needs a lot of
work). This is a tool that can be followed up
easily, is easy to control and get to grips with.
When you start out working with change, structured tools
are easy to learn and use.
On the other end of the spectrum are emergent tools.
These are tools which can be used with large groups.
You have very little control – you can set the scene,
you can focus the group but what comes out is likely to
be what the group has energy around. These methods
can be uncomfortable to use and are much harder to learn
because you have to let go and let the group’s will take
over; you don’t have as much control of the outcome as
you do when you use a more structured method. The
benefit of using this type of tool is that the
participants feel as if they have more of a say,
as if they are equal participants in sculpting the
change. They are deciding what they will do to
achieve the change – they have input. They are
co-creating their new future together with their
leaders. This is a powerful way to make change
sustainable and to keep energy and motivation up.
If ambiguity and complexity are low, it is easy to get
what has to happen clear in your mind. If it is
high, you may not even be completely sure what has to
happen or how. It will emerge over time.
What is happening short term may have bits that are
clear to you, but others that are not yet clear.
You choose your tools accordingly – horses for courses,
as they say.
Most changes require some mix of the two. The
leader of the change needs to be able to assess which
tool is required for where you are in the lifecycle of
the change. For change to work, you need to
constantly monitor what is happening – it goes through
an iterative cycle which is neither linear, nor
necessarily following a particular order. We find
the plan-do-check-act cycle from W. E. Deming useful:
When you are checking – monitoring – you can see what
your next moves need to be and decide just how
structured/emergent you can be and therefore what sort
of intervention you need to look for.
We find that approaching the change from a state of
enquiry helps. You’ve all heard the old saying
‘Assume’ (assumptions) makes an ‘ass’ of ‘u’ and ‘me’?
Particularly when you are working at the emergent end of
the spectrum, asking questions, checking assumptions,
entering dialogue and discussion with an open mind are
helpful in moving you forward and maintaining people’s
momentum. Most people feel at risk with a change,
so the change leader(s) has to be super careful not to
put any obstacles in the way of people’s participation.
And of course you know to communicate, communicate,
communicate – in any and every way you can. All
the interactions you have need to be related back to the
vision of what things will be like when the change is in
place. Help people to understand their part, how
they fit in, what it means for them. If you are
discussing solutions to a business issue, talk about how
each will fit (or not) with the bigger vision of the
We are passionate that change need not be toxic and that
by learning to lead change in a respectful, thoughtful
way, you can make it successful and sustainable.
Keeping things simple and using some simple tools and
models such as those outlined above can help you. Good
�Patricia Lustig, 2008