Better than sliced bread
A couple of years ago a colleague commented (in an email) that the introduction of a new process in our team was “the best thing since sliced bread”1. A quick google search revealed that sliced bread was invented by Otto Frederick Rohwedder in 1928, and so started a lively online discussion as to whether the new process for sign off really was better than, say… penicillin, the microchip, birth control, laser technology, colour television, crocs, radar or cheese and onion flavoured potato chips.
The conversation was a fun afternoon diversion and it highlighted the sheer number of new technologies introduced in the last hundred years which have fundamentally changed the way we relate with one another and with the world around us.
“We are living in times with an exponential rate of change.”
How many times have you read or heard that? It seems self-evident, particularly in light of the discussion above … but is it?
There is a huge amount written about managing change in organisations, much of it extremely helpful. Implicit in most of the models however, is the idea that change is an event or an episode; with a beginning middle and end. Jeanie Duck in her book The Change Monster2 talks about the five stages of managing change: 1) things stagnate, 2) leaders make a decision to change, 3) leaders announce the change (new reporting lines, alternative assignments, different process etc.), 4) there is determination to work out the change and make it stick, to 5) fruition, where the tangible benefits of the change are experienced. John Kotter’s eight step process for leading change is another well used model for a project management approach to change.
Both see change as a disruption to normality. Underlying this is the assumption that the organisational life is static, leaders need to disrupt this stability in order to drive change and then once the change is enforced, things will settle down and 'get back to normal'.
It is no wonder that in a world where there is one episode of change, followed immediately by another and then another, that individuals and teams feel exhausted, with little time to reflect or learn from the last change. It can feel like there is no time to get proper work done before you are having to focus on the next period of change.
Is there a way to conceptualised change differently? Instead of seeing change as an interruption to the ‘norm’ of organisational life, what would it be like if we viewed our organisations and teams as dynamic evolving entities which are always in a state of changing and adapting? Change therefore doesn't need to be driven, it just needs to be nurtured. Rather than you implementing a change in your team, would it be different if you supported your team to incubate change instead?
Jim Grieve in his in depth review of the origins of organisational development3, claims that organisations are currently experiencing:
Approaching change differently needs a different sort of leadership. Leadership that is able to be steady and not have the answer; that focuses on building capacity for creative conversations and is prepared for change that is less predictable but is transformational.
1 An English language idiom meaning, it is a wonderful thing
2 Duck, J. D. 2002. The Change Monster: The Human Forces That Fuel or Foil Corporate Transformation and Change. Three Rivers Press.
3 Grieve, J. 2000. Introduction; the origins of organisational development. Journal of Management Development, 19; 5 p345 - 447