A Holistic View on Change
Updated: Mar 19
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent; it is the one most adaptable to change.” - Charles Darwin
Countless stories, publications and case studies have been written and documented in both professional and personal domains when it comes to change. Change transcends various systems, boundaries and patterns in our social, cultural, economic and political landscapes.
I will attempt to crystallise my mind map when it comes to managing change in business and personal realms. These two aspects often intersect and compliment each other, with an existence of a reciprocal relationship when it comes to change, as there are cumulative effects during the execution of interrelated activities.
Individual behaviour is strongly correlated with the output of the culture of the group. Reciprocally, the group or the group of groups' existing culture could be a factor that influences an individual’s behaviour. Our innate need for belonging might be a trigger for that.
So, how do you manage change? This might roughly entail implementing and sustaining
change-related activities. We have been exposed to various models, methods, frameworks and processes as yardsticks to guide the change agents to implement change. The term implement here might be subjective, depending on the various interpretations, because it brings about different connotations. Regardless, in business, it’s about instilling, applying or incorporating and sustaining change for results; namely increased revenue, customer satisfaction, employee engagement, operational effectiveness, productivity and so on.
One must acknowledge there has to be personal motivators for change. I strongly resonate with Daniel Pink on the three key pillars to intrinsic motivation; namely autonomy, mastery and purpose. We probably need to be decipher these three motivational factors and how that ties into business.
Autonomy is the prevalence of self-authority in the workplace. Therefore, incoming change must incorporate autonomy as a result of its practices. Autonomy is the feeling of self-regulation that coincides with one's own values and principles. A business change with none or a lack of autonomy can have strong correlations to higher employee attrition rates. Change is difficult when the core values of individuals related to the ‘how’ of the work that needs to be undertaken, clashes with the change related activities.
Additional conditions to consider:
Autonomy should be an ongoing theme with change
Autonomy is not to be confused with utopia or full self-governance
Our innate behaviour of getting best at what we do fulfils us. Therefore, the change should bring about the richness in skills both within individuals and groups. This has a positive impact on the change itself, as the organisational human capital increases to attain better outcomes. Mastery is also closely tied to autonomy, as autonomy feeds mastery. The change must incorporate activities that enable people to be allocated a certain amount of time to master their existing and possible new skills throughout their employment journey.
Tip: Try incorporating"Goldilocks tasks"
This is possibly the most important motivational factor and frequently underpins the reasons why individuals execute almost anything they pursue. Hence, it is paramount that the change should clearly state its 'why' and provide everyone affected by the change with the 'What’s in it for me?’(WIIFM). This is a part of the adult learning process.There may be skepticism, nervousness and agitation about the change. The change agent’s responsibility is to ensure that there is a clear understanding and alignment in the acceptance of the journey.
Few key questions to take into consideration:
Why is this new change important for them?
What is the change going to provide for them that the current state isn't?
What are the tradeoffs? How significant are they?
What are the benefits they’ll get through this change?
This brings us nicely to the Iceberg Model that necessitates the understanding of tangible drivers that are in reality, exerted by abstractness; purpose, trust, values, beliefs etc. Correspondingly, autonomy, mastery and purpose cannot be measured(intangible and abstract).
When we want to instigate change for it to be a long-lived, dynamic, ongoing journey, the focus should be on activities that feed intrinsic motivation. One can refer back to this model as a reference. The more you can tap in what’s hidden underneath the surface, the better the quality of change.
Organisational Change Model
Integral Agile Transformation Framework (IATF) coined by Michael Spayd and Michele Madore with influence mainly from Fredrick Laloux’s ‘Reinventing Organisations’ masterpiece and Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory, exemplifies a rough guideline on how to manage change in an organisational context.
As illustrated by the figure above, we can look at the organisation as a whole system, divided into 4 quadrants and 4 altitudes(holons).
The individual quadrants and their focus:
Leadership & Mindset - Individual beliefs / Values and intentions
Culture & Relationships - Shared values / Relationship health / Common vision
Practices & Behaviours - Skills / Competencies and performance
Structure & Architecture - Systems / Structures / Flow of value
Understanding altitudes can help how development happens from Amber to Teal:
Amber - Reactive leadership / Conformist culture/ Pre-modern structures/ Process driven practices
Orange - Reactive leadership/ Achievement culture / Modern structures / Goal driven practices
Green - Creative leadership / Pluralistic culture / Postmodern structures / Organisation driven practices
Teal - Integral leadership / Evolutionary culture / Meta-modern structures / Society-driven practices
This framework facilitates a mental model as to where an individual, a team or an organisation lies; engendering possible sets of activities that can be orchestrated to assist change from amber to orange to green and then finally to teal, as necessary.
Let's take an example. An individual, department or an organisation that emphasises on hierarchy and salary bands may be correlated to the prevalence of amber/orange culture and structure. This however, doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s a binary situation, good or bad. Recognising the existing environment as-is, is crucial. Furthermore, there might be existing elements of teal-ness or green-ness within that amber/orange space and vice versa. As a change agent in these situations, you may be required to carefully utilise the appropriate approach to bring about necessary changes. The trick might be not to force or coerce, but navigate.
I admire this framework because it’s a meta(meaning ‘beyond’ in Greek) framework. Therefore it follows an overarching ‘Integral Discipline’ that warrants evolutionary change, i.e. it looks to bring about changes below the surface of the iceberg. It is also a systems thinking tool. More on that below.
Challenges or barriers to change
There’s no surprise that there will always be some or myriad of challenges to any task; be it a trivial or a behemoth change.
One way the challenges can be manifested is via getting relevant information on what are the barriers to change that encompass various realms, chiefly:
Change buy in
Change future state(s) agreement
Interpersonal change as a result
Coping with ambiguity
Right execution for the future
Various other unknowns
Once you get the relevant data with the entities that will be affected by this change, you’ll be able to gauge what sort of activities are to be undertaken, going forward.
IATF is one of the many frameworks out there that strives to manage change, with individuals, groups and organisations alike. And yet, to think of this as a silver bullet is naive to say the least, simply due to the reality that is uncertain and complex. The complexity will be looked at in more detail below through Systems Thinking map. Regardless, it does offer a fantastic holistic dimension to look at change, that’s for sure.
“Everyone has a plan ‘till they get punched in the mouth” - Mike Tyson
Reality is not what we envisage, almost always.
Observe below a busy figure that demonstrates an example of a system map for tackling obesity - a report by the UK government. This takes into accounts the factors that come into play, such as social, psychological, biological, economic and so on.
A snippet of a set of interactions within the system
Yeah, good luck with tackling that!
Unfortunately, this is reality, and it’s not necessarily a pretty sight. There is definitely an absence of linearity of cause and effect that we yearn for (a+b=c or x → y → z)
Example of business as an activity system.
You can get the essence when comparing these two examples of different systems and with a common theme; complex interconnectedness.
These systems map exhibit multiple parts, connections, agents, nodes and subsystems within the whole system that can have effects on a single as well as overall output and results. A little movement or change in one of the aspects of the whole system, will likely guarantee a different System Map. The figure below illustrates what may happen as a result of changes in a system. You might want to limit the number of unintended consequences.
You can appreciate how little actions with many unintended consequences might result in day-to-day firefighting situations within an organisation. Additionally, it's safe to say that we should do everything in our ability to avoid getting to the bottom right quadrant.
One must approach cautiously as to where in the system and what level of change is looking to be incorporated; tactical or transformational. Either way, the future state must be co-created by the change agents and key stakeholders alike to enable transparency and alignment of expectations across all facets of organisational leadership, cultures, structures and practices.
Change is complex.
You don’t necessarily install change.
It's hard to conclude that change is a step-by-step, linear, cause-and-effect phenomenon. Change is dynamic.
Understand that changing a part of the system could have subsequent effects.
Don't negate the iceberg's below the surface activities during change.
Become less wrong over time through systems thinking.
As change agents, we have to try to make transparent the current state the system(organisation) is in, in all quadrants and altitudes; as encapsulated by the systems thinking tools like the IATF and Change vs Consequences model. In my experience, an essential aspect is the extensive understanding of how the existing agents within the system(key individuals and influencers) interconnect and influence each other. It’s largely a people business after all.
Change is a journey and learning by adapting along the journey, coupled with the right preconception in mind is the optimum mindset one can have in order to make the journey as smooth as possible. One attribute is common; just about everyone wants progress, albeit they might just be executing the wrong activities with the right intent. Our job as change agents is to shine the light, and not dictate the pace; as the journey is not ours.
Fredrick Laloux’s book - Reinventing Organisations
Michael Spayd and Michele Madore’s Book - Agile Transformation
Systems thinking brief video - cdc.gov
Donella H Meadows & Dana Wright - Thinking in Systems PDF
Adult learning principles - valamis.com
Ken Wilber book - A brief history of everything
Organisations and Relationships Systems