Monday, September 30, 2013

When Change is the Only Constant - part #1

More and more leaders are starting to realize that their past strategic decisions are now impacting, if not creating, their current challenges. They have come to understand that these decisions and the subsequent implementation of them have created the current strategic infrastructure and current culture within their organizations.

Given change is the only constant now and that we are experiencing the 5 year anniversary of the start of the recession, many leaders and organizations have realized that they must learn to work effectively and efficiently. However, they are encountering a unique problem, namely that followers just want to keep things manageable and under control. Furthermore, most do not comprehend the difference between effective and efficient work. The best way way to explain the differences is to review the following two short questions:

- Efficiency = Are we doing things right? 

- Effectiveness = Are we doing the right things?

The former focuses on creating clarity about work related standards while the later focuses on mission clarity. Both are important and both are interconnected.

Nevertheless, the core challenge of working with constant change is that we, as leaders, may have to protect and unprotect the people and the organization from change. Most leaders protect people from change because it will cause too much disruption within the organization to deliver upon it’s core mission, or create too much disequilibrium within mission critical systems or processes. However, the best leaders know they need to unprotect their people and the organization from change, too. The challenge is that they need to do it at a rate which does not create too much disequilibrium and so that people can absorb it, i.e. what Ron Heifetz calls the creation of the “productive discomfort zone.” The difficulty is that unprotecting people will challenge their priorities, goals, and habits. And they will in turn react in a dynamic manner.

When I note that people will act in a dynamic manner, I am pointing out that at times we as leaders forget what is “normal” when change is the constant. First, we must recognize that people feel self-conscious and uncomfortable during constant change. They are embarrassed by not knowing exactly what to do. They seek out familiarity and/or past reference points in order to manage the “chaos.” They want to create order, plus some degree of predictability, when change is happening in their world. They also experience a loss of confidence and competence. They feel alone even if everyone else is going through the same change with them. Next, they get easily overwhelmed by the pace, and then shut down, deferring to people in leadership positions to make all of the decisions. Finally, they focus on coping and regularly loose sight of the bigger picture and the current context. 

Working and leading in a constantly changing environment is the new normal now. Therefore, it is time for us as leaders to make sure standards and expectations are clear, the mission is primary to our actions, and that we all create a productive discomfort zone rather than a chaotic one. As Ilya Prigogene, Belgian physical chemist and Nobel Laureate noted for his work on dissipative structures, complex systems and irreversibility, wrote: “The world evolves through change; stability is not balance but change.” Remember this week to help people be better prepared for this new reality.

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257

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