Thursday, February 24, 2011

It’s Not Broken Unless I Say It Is

In The Practice of Adaptive Leadership, authors Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow, and Marty Linsky, make this observation:

"There is a myth that drives many change initiatives into the ground: that the organization needs to change because it is broken. The reality is that any social system (including an organization or a country or a family) is the way it is because the people in that system (at least those individuals and factions with the most leverage) want it that way. In that sense, on the whole, on balance, the system is working fine, even though it may appear to be "dysfunctional" in some respects to some members and outside observers, and even though it faces danger just over the horizon. As our colleague Jeff Lawrence poignantly says, 'There is no such thing as a dysfunctional organization, because every organization is perfectly aligned to achieve the results it currently gets.' "

This goes a long way to help me understand why change is so difficult. William Bridges wrote that it is not that people don’t like change, they just don’t like being changed!  If I am satisfied with my present situation, who are you to tell me that I need to do anything differently?

Change is not imposed on a person or an organization from outside.  Change can only happen when that person or organization is ready to change.  So what drives change?

1.    Impending death.  Although I know people who have been told they will die if they don’t stop smoking, I have seen plenty of people who are ready to take off their oxygen mask for just one more puff.  For most individuals and organizations, impending death is not necessarily a strong motivation to change because we cannot imagine the world with us or our organization.
2.     A “wake-up call.”  There is a sudden realization that disaster is on the doorstep-- you can’t make your mortgage payment, or there is no money to pay this month’s salary checks, or the roof of the sanctuary just caved in and the insurance doesn’t cover it.  Few people can ignore disaster when it is staring them in the face.
3.    Embarrassment.  When something happens that violates the values and standards of the individual or community AND it becomes public knowledge, there is usually readiness to change.  Whether is a drunk and disorderly charge of abuse of a minor by a staff member, corrective action can no longer be delayed.
4.    Discontent.  This is the least dramatic cause for change, but the one that may have the most lasting effect.  When an individual discovers that he or she is underperforming or a church realizes that there are unmet opportunities at its doorstep, this may well provide readiness for change.  In such a situation, a perceptive person or a wise leader can cast a vision for a desired future that will provide motivation for life or organizational change.

Change rarely happens overnight but it will never happen without readiness for change.

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