By Guest Contributor Neil Usher
Neil Usher, author of Elemental Change explains how we prepare for organisational change through his easy to use elemental change framework.
When we try and make sense of the world and the situations we face, we have a natural tendency to lump everything in together. The more we can include the better. We believe that if we can just fathom the relationships between everything that’s happening, we’ll stand us the best chance of ‘working things out’. Including everything means we stand less chance of missing a vital connection or dependency. The same often occurs within organisations with large-scale change initiatives. All of which makes preparing for change incredibly difficult. It needn’t be.
We can most effectively prepare for change by breaking down the situations we face into four areas, with a response for each:
- things we known we know
- things we know we don’t know
- things we don’t know we don’t know
- things we don’t know we know (the most problematic of all)
While this may sound beguiling at first, it gives us the clarity we need to make things happen when nothing stands still. We then prepare to meet each with the ‘operating system of change’ consisting of six interrelated components:
This approach in turn reveals why planning isn’t always our best route.
Each of the four areas in which we can categorise what exists today and ahead prompts a response in dealing with it. For those things we know we know, where we have perfect knowledge and therefore expect events to unfold in a linear fashion, we can plan. Very often however we don’t have this degree of certainty even though we try and force-fit the situation rather like Cinderella’s slipper. Where we know what we don’t know, there are variable outcomes – and so we can plan with options. We are ready for the situation to develop down any number of paths, and we can be reasonably certain what will occur with each.
PREDICTING THE UNPREDICTABLE
The trickier questions arrive where we don’t know what we don’t know. How can we plan when we have no idea what will happen? The simple answer is we don’t – we prepare. Preparation is necessary for any of the four categories. We do so before planning and developing options, too, it’s just less overt where we have certainty. But as planning falls away, we deal with uncertainty by being prepared for it. Lastly, there are things we don’t know that we know. We may have forgotten or suppressed them, consciously or unconsciously. These are probably the most difficult situations to untangle. We need to search for and face up to them. Sometimes we just don’t want to, which is why we’ve buried them. Yet they’ll impact our outcomes. They won’t go away.
PREPARING FOR CHANGE
Preparation for change then requires the presence of six key components that we can term the ‘change operating system’. Like any operating system it connects the machine (us) with the applications (the change we are leading and what we’ll do to make it happen). Operating systems are vital, but we usually only notice them when they begin to malfunction. All components also need to be present and working in synch to be effective.
We can show the operating system on a spider chart. This allows us to plot where we are today with each and where we’d like to get to. There are various qualitative and quantitative measures we can use for each.
The role of each component is summarised below:
|Opportunity||Identify it||We can see and map what’s possible|
|Vision||Capture it||We can inspire the possible|
|Evidence||Prove it||We can bring the possible to life|
|Leadership||Deliver it||We can make the possible happen|
|Trust||Believe it||We can secure the possible|
|Resources||Enable it||We can make the possible possible|
IT ALL BEGINS WITH OPPORTUNITY
While there is no specific order as such within the operating system, almost all change begins with an opportunity. It may present itself, be discovered or be hewn from a restless spirit, need or curiosity, but is an opportunity, nonetheless. Rarely are such opportunities mapped. This is why the system brings beneficial structure and discipline to bear. Taking time to do so ensures that the other components of the system can be brought into play appropriately.
Each component is linked to the other and strengthened by the availability and quality of the others.
WHAT OF OUR PLAN?
It is one of the Resources we need. It is soft, flexible, comfortable with change, open to new information and ideas, happy to be wrong readily able to adapt. It is in the mix, but no longer dominant. From this point on, we make sense of what is around us, of what is shifting and moving ahead of us, and we prepare. The operating system gives us the means to be fantastic leaders of change. All of us.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
NEIL USHER has almost 30 years’ experience as a business leader who has delivered innovative working environments for large organizations globally. Together with this practical experience, his influential blog (workessence.com), regular conferences and academic talks have made him a leading thinker in the profession. He is also author of Elemental Workplace.
‘You never step in the same river twice.’ Our intensely interconnected world never stops evolving. Amid the chaos of intended and unexpected consequences we’re expected to lead a change initiative. We have to learn fast, as its already started. This highly practical, human and humorous book shows us how to makes complex change attainable – organizational, professional or personal – whether you have years of experience or are facing your first major challenge. It helps us think about what change is and means, how we prepare for it and what we do to make it successful. It may just be the most readable book about change yet.
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