Nature of Change

As I watched the 11th September attack on the World Trade Centre, seeing the planes fly over and over again into the buildings, I was struck by a need for us to do something, something different, and this got me asking myself some questions on the nature of the change process.

Change is a feature of everything, so we are all aware of it. It affects every aspect of our lives, and rather like the weather, we can either seek to protect ourselves from it or make the most of it. But is it “Just one of those things?” A modern fad? Or should we try to ‘manage’ it?

What is change? I always think of it as a journey made up of interwoven beginnings, middles and ends. However, my middle maybe part of your beginning…and so on. Things that affect the nature of our journey can be divided into two main types; things we decide or can control, and everything else falls into the ‘Stuff that Happens’ category.

Of course no system is completely isolated from its environment and what we decide affects what happens. If I feel that we are entering a recession and decide to cut back on my spending, then perhaps I help bring about that recession.

The degree to which we make decisions that affect our lives and our businesses, and the manner in which we respond to those external factors has a huge impact on not only how successful we are, but perhaps more importantly, how we feel about that success and ourselves. It is a fact that the people who suffer from most stress are not the executives who make decisions, but the people lower down in the system who feel unable to control their lives. So taking active part in this inevitable process reduces stress (as well as causing it!)

Most businesses have annual plans, which usually incorporate a degree of change (but usually quantitative change rather than qualitative.) Staff come and go, systems are upgraded and laws and taxes are modified. So why might you need some help with change when you are paid to manage it?

You may be someone who enjoys D.I.Y., you may be very skilful and have the time and energy to do it yourself. However, back at the business you have many things to attend to, things that only you can do; can you afford the luxury of a D.I.Y. solution?

The reality is that unless the change you are trying to effect is business critical, then you will think about it, begin it and at some stage between inception and completion things will happen that demand your attention, and gradually the new program withers and fails. That is why everyone ‘knows’ change doesn’t work. There are some areas where you just can’t Do-It-Yourself, heart surgery is one and change is another.

If you remember the last time you were looking for houses? Remember how quickly you were able to assess what needed doing, all the possible things you could do with it. In a matter of half an hour you had a very good idea of how that house could be transformed. Now think about your own home; most of us have areas that need a little attention, things that we were going to fix, but haven’t got round to, depredation brought about by children, dogs and the weather. Do you really notice them any more? The same is true in your business.

Quantum physics has proven that introducing an observer (or even a measurement system) into a system changes that system. The obverse of this is that if you are part of a system, then you are part of the problem. The irony is that you are also part of the solution. Think of any system that you are part of, your family, your firm, your social circle; think about how your feel about it, what you notice about it, what you can do about it. Then think about a system that you are not part of, a different family or group; what do you notice about these people?

To be effective in a change program you actually need a ‘Both / And’ approach. All the insight and familiarity of an insider combined with the experience, perspective and insight of an external agent.

The roles of the insider and external agent are very different. The insider must sponsor the change both in terms of providing the resources required and providing the political backing. The external agent brings in additional resource, wears the ‘badge’ of expert, can challenge the system, and perhaps most importantly has the responsibility of making the change happen and therefore maintains focus on it.

One definition of lunacy is in “Expecting to get something different in continuing to do what you have always done”; and yet we all do it. If you want to get something different.. Do something different..

There is never a ‘good time’ to begin a change program. There are always so many things competing for your time and attention. Change means uncertainty, disruption and cost (at least in the short term), and we all shy away from these things. There is never a ‘good time’ because the only time you can decide to make a change is right now! If you want things to be better tomorrow (whatever that means to you) then you must act today. Almost regardless of what you do, if you do something different right now, you can get something different! Then you are beginning the change process.

So here is a challenge for you, “What could you do, right now, that would be different?” Don’t think about it, do it! You may be surprised how a small change by you can make a big difference elsewhere. Don’t wait… Just Do It!

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God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Reinhold Niebuhr

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