A Season of Change

  • March 6, 2019

Autumn is here, and with it comes the annual sense of change and transformation. The leaves turn color, the weather shifts cooler, school starts again, the air is full of the aroma of pumpkin spice. We switch the blades on the ceiling fan, get out the coats and boots that had moved to the back of the closet, and locate missing umbrellas.

This seasonal change is paradoxical in that it feels routine, something new and altered and yet also repeated, done before, established rhythms slipping into place. And it’s natural at this time to turn inward and reflect a little bit, evaluating changes gone through, anticipating change to come.

This transition isn’t limited to individuals and families. Organizations and businesses also go through annual rhythms and big transformations. In fact, most modern organizations are changing at different speeds and in different trajectories, as policies are revised, initiatives are begun, products are launched or retired, and personnel transitions and changes. Organizations need to be in a constant state of refinement and revision, undergoing continuous change, as they respond to shifting markets, competitors, and economic environments.

As with individuals, though, organizational change presents both risks and opportunities. Large, sweeping changes can be destabilizing, even when they are necessary for a positive goal or outcome. And the truth is, most organizations fail at creating real change.

Organizations, unlike the seasons, don’t always change in a predictable and routine manner. Organizations have to try to change, plan for change, manage change, and evaluate change. It’s difficult and full of risks and pitfalls, and often doesn’t deliver the desired results.

The truth is, before an organization can change, it needs to become an organization capable of change.

In other words, before any specific change in action or direction can happen effectively, the entire organization needs to evolve to be able to execute the change. Change-ready organizations are very different from their change-resistant counterparts, in several significant ways:

Leadership has a clear, comprehensive understanding of inter-dependent resources. A single goal, department, or process can’t be changed without deep understanding of related flows, processes, and relationships. Organizations are networks operating within other networks, and all these relationships have to be managed in order to evaluate the capacity to change.

The organization is transparent with staff. Employees need a clear understanding and engagement in the mission and vision of the organization in order to adapt to change in a healthy way. Change can create anxiety and fatigue in employees who feel unstable. Change-ready organizations communicate clearly and often, and create open channels of communication at all levels. Management doesn’t just communicate with employees, but employees communicate with leadership and with each other. Robust workplace relationships help employees remain committed and navigate change.

The organization is able to focus and prioritize. Every organization, and every department, process, even individual within that organization, has a finite capacity for continual change. While continual, overlapping, ongoing evolution and transformation is necessary for the health of the organization, leadership must understand the current limitations. Effective change is implemented in a targeted, prioritized manner that is achievable and assess-able.

Organizations that understand their own complex internal and external resource networks, are able to effectively foster open communication and trust, and are able to focus and prioritize, are organizations that are capable of change. Creating this change-enabled culture allows the organization to respond continually and effectively to an ever-changing world.

This fall, while some people are looking forward to longer evenings indoors with cider and cocoa, some businesses are gearing up for their busy retail season or end-of-year initiatives. Some organizations will attempt huge changes, only to falter and sink back into routine. And some change-ready organizations will find themselves, like the autumn trees, doing something completely new, but in a way that feels natural and practically inevitable.

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