[The following is the sixth in a series of articles published in the business section of the Vancouver Sun. For context, see the intro to this series here.]
Everywhere I go these days people are talking about the speed, need, and impact of change. Change Management has been built into the syntax of language: as a noun (‘We need to introduce Change Management strategies’), a verb (‘Let’s change manage this situation’) and an expletive (‘Change Management!’).
An influential industry has developed to respond to our dysfunctional relationship to change: instructions on how to generate urgency, how to properly communicate to staff and how best to generate quick wins that reinforce new structures.
But let’s look into this change phenomenon a little more closely. The need to implement a Change Management strategy suggests that an environment is resistant to change. This is self-evident. Human beings are notorious creatures of habit, often responding to new approaches with hostility.
Changing environments threaten both our survival and belonging needs, exposing our most basic fears. Instituting a new IT system makes you feel like your skills are no longer relevant; welcoming a new manager produces uncertainty about how the team will function in the future.
The need to introduce Change Management strategies also suggests something else: that your current environment is static. This too is understandable since people prefer not to live in a state of emergency and are therefore amenable to routine.
Static environments, however, are not compatible with performance in the Information Age. Industries are learning that new innovations and opportunities can’t easily be contained by the structures that governed traditional markets. New energy, for example, is a fast moving and competitive industry that confounds the process-oriented and risk-averse structures that dominant organizations have built around traditional energy sources.
Change is no longer an end-to-end process with a finish line and a shiny prize at the end of the effort. The principles that govern successful change need to be built into operations and unsurprisingly it starts at top of the organization, from the leader on down.
In her new book Breaking the Leadership Mold, Vancouver-based executive coach Rosie Steeves expands upon a developmental approach to leadership introduced by American author and researcher Bill Torbert in which she concludes that the maturity of a leader is the most significant determinant of how an organization relates to change. By maturity she refers not to age but rather outlook.
Each progressive leadership stage demonstrates an increased capacity to embrace change, take different perspectives, balance contradictions and reframe circumstances to transform action. The minimum level required to respond to today’s challenges she and Torbert call Strategists, and frighteningly only 11% of business leaders in North America score at this level or higher.
Being a Strategist doesn’t simply mean being able to think strategically. Most leaders can do this to a fault. Rather, by this definition, a Strategist is one with the ability to embrace the inherent contradictions and complexities of today’s world.
A transformative leader in the Information Age doesn’t rely on magnetic charisma, but rather is able to build Strategist capacities into the organization while articulating a vision for the future that inoculates against resistance. This means empowering employees with decision-making authority, creating a continuous learning environment, and nurturing a fearless culture that can adapt to changing situations as they arise.
It’s urgent that people and organizations develop these capacities, not merely to avoid redundancy, but because ill-equipped leaders burden an already unsustainable system. We confront a host of global calamities that require a shift in how we think and act. When Einstein said that problems can’t be solved by the level of thinking that created them, it was precisely this topic he was addressing.
The good news is that growth and development are possible. Change Management then becomes a component of continuous improvement for individuals, teams and across organizations and those that fail to adapt will eventually be replaced by those who can.
It’s time for leaders to wake up to what change is and how it relates to their own development and the future of their organization.