Here’s something none of us has ever heard before: change begets change. While this is trite and a cliche, it’s the obviousness of life that often jumps up and bites us in the butt when we stop paying attention to it. It’s received wisdom that change is hard, but I wonder if it is actually the opposite? Change is too easy. There is so much change around us that, as we spend our days coping with the tyranny of the urgent, we no longer notice it. We don’t resist change as much as we’ve become oblivious to it.
Look around. We live in a period in history that has never experienced as much change as what we’re experiencing now.
One minor example, utterly banal because it’s so commonplace these days. A client connected me to an overseas colleague via email. Within 10 minutes we had exchange email introductions, added each other as Skype contacts and were talking to one another face to face. Hello Canada. Hello England. Here’s another: when did voice-to-text become so good? I’m just now trying to break the typing habit that my wife abandoned 6 months ago.
It’s axiomatic to say we’re experiencing greater change today than at any time in our history.
If the pace of change increases then it must be true that any given period of time will witness more differences in habit, content and form than those that preceded it. The difference now seems to be that the drumbeat of change is so constant that we’ve integrated it into our lives and no longer notice it in the way we once did. Another obvious example: Five years ago software updates were an occasional nuisance. Now, with the slithering and nesting of apps in our pockets and purses, they’ve become an almost daily routine!
The landscape is constantly shifting and changing under our feet. We’ve become so accustomed to dealing with its constant tremors, unconsciously adapting and integrating, that we risk missing the signals of a pending earthquake. I wonder how many of us will even stop to do a double take when we pull up next to a driverless car for the first time? Our obliviousness to change engenders both danger and opportunity and unless we approach it intentionally, it will pass us by and we’ll wake up one day realizing we’ve missed an opportunity that others didn’t.
How should we break the spell constant change has cast?
The first step is waking up to this simple idea; honor the tingling spider sense telling you that what got you here won’t get you there.
The second step is to define your organization’s relationship with change. This requires you and your leadership team to detach from the daily grind. Together, take the time to determine the story you want to tell. Think about how your organization could and should bring something new and different into existence. This is important because without the clarity this exercise drives into your own thinking, it is impossible to undertake the hard work of aligning your team around what needs to change and why. That story of change then becomes an important part of your organizational narrative. In turn, the energy needed to turn the intentions of your strategic plan into action is generated. It also minimizes change fatigue because it aligns the hard work of change to a sense of purpose. Finally, while naming and framing change is necessary, it isn’t sufficient.
The third step is to walk it out. This, of course, is the most difficult part and is the ongoing project of creating unique value in the marketplace. Leaders, managers and employees won’t embrace change until they understand what they can do within their Circle of Influence to think and act differently. There are practical tools to bring into the workplace to help people think differently about their relationship to the status quo. One such tool we often use in our strategic planning workshops is Implicit Assumptions.
Change is like a haircut.
The right amount is a good thing but too much is a decapitation. In a world where the pace of change is so rapid it feels like the status quo, weaving the story of change into your organizational narrative lays the groundwork for ongoing discussions about the what, how and why of the right kind of change for your company. It not only helps overcome the quite natural resistance to it, but also the complacency created its ever-increasing pace.