I attended a terrific conference in Hot Springs, Virginia this past week. The title was Management of Change. Those are three powerful words. Management of Change. They are what attracted me to the conference in the first place, and I’ve been contemplating them since.
Both the words “management” and “change” signify a range of possibilities of meaning. Let’s take change first. I generally think about change as something pretty big, substantial, but clearly, it can refer to something as minor as changing one’s socks. The range of what change refers to is vast, including personal or individual changes, corporate or organization changes, and even global change. So, change is a tricky term with its significance gliding between the insignificant (sock change) to the momentous (climate change).
Surely, our attention is needed more toward the momentous scale. And if so, there’s another word that comes to mind: transformation. Although often a synonym for change, transformation sounds bigger. It implies something more desirable, in a way. There’s a sense of evolution in it and something more proactive. It’s as if change is always occurring and transformation is how we (hopefully) deal with it. I was talking with a coach a few weeks ago, and he said that change is temporary, whereas transformation is permanent. Then, conference keynote speaker, Dr. Jorge Haddock (Dean of George Mason University’s School of Management), deftly explained that change signifies something different in what we are doing, while transformation refers to something new in how we are being.
The distinction intrigues me. I work with my clients on the being part of the equation, while the client is generally more focused on the doing part. They want to do something they haven’t, for some reason, been able to – build a building, open a new line of business, turn around lagging morale, identify innovative solutions to air quality problems, collaborate across traditional boundaries, etc., etc. In all these cases, I am much less concerned with what the client decides to do since I know whatever that is will come clear after the being part is transformed. The doing is actually the easier part. As Louise Hay says, “I don’t fix problems, I fix thinking. Then problems fix themselves.”
No one changes anything of any significance without the will to do it. And will is comprised of understanding, motivation, values alignment, and the aha! that means things have chinked into place. When this happens, get ready for mind-blowing leaps in thinking, making way for life altering transformation, explosions of realization from which spring entirely new plateaus of awareness, service, compassion and impact. Innovation in what we do becomes possible by what we open our minds and hearts to in who we are.
The experience of this, what we call epiphany or revelation or quantum leap, is far too rare and precious in this world. How many groups do I start out with who come to the process skeptical, with the expectation that all they will get in our process is something insignificant, if not downright negligible? That nothing will change and certainly not anything on the scale of transformation. It’s as if we are so used to disappointment, we walk around taking what we can get as a matter of course.
The biggest challenge I have is helping people believe that something else is possible – that perhaps, this time, we can dare to dream, to go for something bigger than we’ve seen before, something we might describe as our heart’s desire. The moment when the group begins to transform their stance of “take what I can get and protect it like hell” to “imagine what could be possible” is magic indeed, because then I know we will get to the brilliance.
This kind of transformation is my life’s work. Helping people, groups, organizations, communities reach for the impossible, imagine the unbelievable, design strategy, map new territory, and track discovery of worlds unknown. I watch as the individuals in these groups come alive again, inspired by renewed meaning and the promise of returning the infinite’s investment in humanity.
So, while at the conference, I listened carefully for how the barriers to change were described. What keeps us from realizing greatness, the extraordinary?
- Is it technology? Do our mind’s imaginings outpace what our engineering can build? Surely, but that is only a matter of time.
- Is it imagination? Does the complexity of the issues test the limits of our imaginations? Definitely, but that is exactly what drives us to innovate.
- Is it what we believe? Does our culture of beliefs and values, dare I say, our maturity, keep us from doing what we know to be right? Yes. And this one will stop us dead in our tracks every time until we face it head on.
The Peter Drucker quote, “culture eats strategy for lunch,” came up in a couple of different contexts at the conference as a way of naming exactly this: all the best strategy in the world will come to nil if the culture is not in alignment with it. Throughout the conference, I heard culture as the main barrier to implementing real change. So what’s to be done in the face of the big “it’s just the way we are” or “that’s how we do it here”? The inertia of the old cow path? That’s where the “management” part of the conference name comes in.
By definition, if we are managing something, we know what we are doing and are making sure it happens. But in large-scale change, in areas where we need transformation, we don’t know. That’s the whole point. We aren’t ready yet to turn things over to managers; what we need is leadership. As Dr. Haddock said, we need leaders who listen for the culture, for the context of an issue and help people hear the stories they tell themselves that are no longer useful. Not more information, more content on the issue, but more attentiveness to its context. And to the process by which people can come together, develop shared understanding predicated on shared language, transform their understanding at a cellular level, see something new, bigger than they have before, all of which enables doing something brilliant.
As our issues grow in number, complexity and scope – in our organizations, our communities and our world, and the pace of change continues to increase, it is leadership of transformation that will pave the way for successful management of change.
A hearty thanks to the ACT/IAC team for such a well-run and thought-provoking conference, and to all the attendees for making the conversation so rich.