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Organic Change vs. Planned Change

March 13th, 2007 · 1 Comment

Once upon a time, Mike Kelly, Tate Stuntz, and I were discussing organizational change. We were observing an organization that was going through a great deal of change, some of it planned and some of it that just happened. Some changes were being orchestrated by committees of concerned people who put programs into place to address specific problems, others by managers with pet objectives, and some by renegades who recognized opportunity in the chaos.

Which change agents do you think were the most successful? Each group represents a specific form of authority – which do you think was best at enabling change? Committees empowered to perform a specific task? Managers with broad, formal authority? Opportunistic employees with no authority at all?

Well, it depends. Success and failure, anecdotally speaking, seemed to be equally distributed across these groups. It seemed as if the authority of the change agent was not a UNIVERSAL factor in the success or failure of the effort, at least not in the sense that one might believe a particular given authority is ALWAYS required to enable change. Instead, it seemed the different types of authority were simply tools that could give the change agent an advantage if he was skillful at using it.

All of this is build up to one of my favorite quotes from Mike. As we discussed how the organization we were observing was attempting to manage the change it was experiencing, Mike said something that has stuck with me ever since:

Organizations that talk about change are organizing to resist change.


More specifically, organizations that talk about MANAGING change are getting ready to resist it. Setting up approval boards, etc for vetting change agent’s plans before they try them is a way to prevent change, however well intentioned the board may be (many are not well-intentioned at all in that they openly admit their purpose is to prevent change).

So, if Mike is right, how do you encourage change in an organization without accidentally discouraging it? Do you just let people loose to do what they please? Do you just not talk about it at all, except to recognize the successes of wily change agents?

I’m not entirely sure what the answer is. My argument against attempts to ‘manage’ change seems to be centered on a fundamental personal belief – I don’t need a babysitter. I can be trusted to further the interests of the organization, based on my intelligence, experience, education, and expertise. I have also learned that my perspective on this is heavily influenced by my personality type, something Carl Jung believed I was born with and could never change if I wanted to, much like my height or eye color.

I do believe one simple thing about change. Hire people you can trust, and then trust them. Collectively, and individually. Not trusting them, whether you manage change or not, is a self-fulfilling prophecy that will always harm your organization.

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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Garrett Gitchell // Nov 9, 2010 at 10:45 am

    David,
    Insightful.
    I would not be surprised if I knew the organization you are talking about- although this pattern is common.
    I like to substitute “guiding” for “managing” change.

    You are dead-on in that the internal approach to CM is typically about control. Smooth change sees the end state as more important than current power/control.

    Smooth change is a figment of the imagination though…

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