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Posts Tagged ‘world view’

Change Proofing

November 21, 2009 Leave a comment

In 1995 I co-authored a paper [1] about “Change Proofing” – the ability of a commercial organization to manage change stimulated by largely unanticipated, hard-to-predict events and shocks. Examples up to that time included trauma due to third world debt in the 1970s, the energy industry in the 1980s, and commercial real estate and corporate buy-outs in the 1990s.

History shows that the consequences of failing to recognize and interpret harbingers of change can be devastating. It is said that the ancient Peruvian Indians were unable to “see” the sails of the invading Spanish fleet, and dismissed them as mirages. More recent historical (hysterical?) examples of myopia include US automobile manufacturers who were blinkered to Pacific-Rim competitors, and even IBM, which was long unprepared for opportunities presented by the explosive growth of personal computing.

Clearly-identified business trends, such as globalization, technology, demographics and new social orders, had often been cited up to 1995 as drivers of change. However, little attention had been given to management of change stimulated by largely unanticipated, hard-to-predict events and shocks, such as rapid oil price changes or the sudden collapse of centrally-planned economies. Few models of such change, or techniques to plan or cope with it had been presented in the literature in 1995 or since for that matter, although even in 1993 according to such an authority as Ed Schein [2]: “…the problem is not management of change but the management of surprise”.

Change Proofing was not intended as a means to resist or avoid change, but rather a process for becoming more flexible and responsive in order to cope with it. The Change Proofing paper proposed that environmental shocks and surprises could best be managed by increasing the ability of the organization itself to anticipate, recognize and respond to them – surprise surprise – before hand! The paper set out theoretical reasoning, but more importantly it detailed a straightforward practical Change Audit that would help organizations of all types and sizes frame and address critical factors for Change Proofing; form more realistic and objective views of radical environmental change; and develop better means of coping with surprise. The paper also recommended that the Change Audit should cover organizational learning processes and their impact on strategic focus, motivation and core capabilities.

So what can one say about current events? Too bad so many of today’s organizations haven’t read the paper or didn’t heed its message?! Well, it’s not too late to plan for next time – and there will be a next time – so I invite you to have a look at the paper now …

[1] Drew, S.A.W. & Smith, P., The Learning Organization: Change Proofing and Strategy, The Learning Organization, Vol. 2, No. 1, 1995

[2] Schein, E.H., How can organizations learn faster? The challenge of the green room, Sloan Management Review, Winter, 1992; pp. 85 – 92

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Dancing with the Gorilla!

July 4, 2009 Leave a comment

Once upon a time the pace of change was slow enough that we could adapt either by making small adjustments or by passing our insights on to the next generation. Today the pace of technological and social change accelerates almost continuously, and the necessary adjustments are so large as to lead us to talk about the “management of discontinuities” and our insights are often out of date as soon as we formulate them.

Our environment has become so large, interconnected, complex and unpredictable that the only kind of stability we can find is dynamic – like a boat in a storm. Each day brings more surprises and we ponder “What in the world is happening to the world?” Our answer to this question shapes our individual world view that in turn shapes just about everything we do – so let’s explore a couple of world views ….. Enter the Gorilla of change that your organization is partnered to dance with whether you like it or not! Wake Up!! The trampling has commenced ….

The gorilla represents contextual change that can cause anything from minimal organizational discomfort to deathly executive fear – simple transition or absolute chaos. In the past the gorillas you and your organization danced with came from zoos, and were docile old things that gave you a very few surprises if any. They had names like unrest, confusion, transition, competition and the like. Your organization knew all the moves and steps and the dance went quite smoothly.

Suddenly the supply of tame gorillas dried up and all the new gorillas you partner with now have just come from the jungle. These gorillas are wild and unpredictable, and have names like ambiguity, disorder, complexity, and chaos – even dare we say it “global crisis”! Now, there are two ways you and your organization can dance today with these gorillas (1) the old way where you imposed the steps, or (2) a new way in which you learn to let the steps emerge.

Let’s review these two world views ….

1.    You impose the steps and you:

  • see the future as an extension of the past and the steps are laid out
  • strive for routine and predictability emphasizing efficiency (“doing it right”) over effectiveness (“doing the right thing”)
  • fall victim to the “It has always worked” syndrome
  • develop an organization that learns the steps from its own old manuals
  • suffer under the curse of the paradigm so that the dance ends catastrophically. A paradigm is mental model of the world. It is useful for aligning the thinking and effort of all organizational members but over time it becomes a restrictive communal mindset where challenge to the status quo is unthinkable – be prepared to be trampled!!

2.    You let the steps emerge and you:

  • “Go with the flow” … the dance is a complex system and you leverage the “exploitation/exploration” tension to your advantage
  • embrace entrepreneurship and innovation, striving for continuous renewal
  • strive for both effectiveness and efficiency
  • are agile and leverage the knowledge in your human capital
  • avoid the curse of the paradigm by ensuring freedom at all organizational levels to make decisions based on a culture of high autonomy – high alignment
  • promote social networks and social networking
  • are sensitive to what your organization’s “opinion leaders” are counseling

It turns out that dancing with your gorilla using style #2 fits very well with newly emerging theories that involve social networks, chaordics, and complex adaptive systems, to name just a few tempos. Indeed many current authoritative judges of gorilla dancing think you will have a sound future in competitive gorilla dancing if you adopt this style … ah, but how to begin without being trampled? Why not give me a call? I’d be delighted to introduce you to some great gorilla-dancing coaches ….