Change doesn’t happen in a linear fashion

Change doesn't happen in a linear fashion

Given how fast things are moving today, the need for change has become a constant, and it affects us both personally and professionally. Still, even though changes are needed, very often they are not welcome and they can face resistance. Changes are something that can upset people and they have a great potential for failure, productivity drop, or decline in quality. Can a good change model prevent this?

There are hundreds of change models out there. Try typing change management models in Google and you’ll easily find a bunch of them. By taking a closer look, we can see that they are all more or less similar. They all have some kind of step-by-step approach, describing linearly what needs to be done if we want to have a successful change initiative. Offering a process model, in a way, they look at change as something that can be planned in detail and carried out like any other project. But despite all these models, change efforts have a lousy success record. Granted, there is some ambiguity surrounding the success of change initiatives and the data you can find.

Research data shows that only 30% of change initiatives can be considered successful. Well, in a way, no matter what we imagine and how perfect the step-by-step plan is, there’s a good chance it won’t happen. Why is that? Most of the change models are linear, and one of the reasons for this is that our brain values certainty.

People have an innate preference for causal determinism, the idea that we can control and plan the future and that the right plan and structure will help us in every situation. But the real world doesn’t work that way; it doesn’t care about our plans. In the real world, every organization is a complex adaptive system that exhibits unpredictable behavior while constantly adapting to a changing environment.

We must take into account that the organization is a social network in which people interact with each other at all levels of the hierarchy and that everything is connected to everything. By imposing a linear way of thinking in such an environment, we are doomed and this of course applies to change initiatives.

People are responding to change, not resisting the change

I’m pretty sure you’ve had a great idea at least once that you thought would bring great success if you implemented it in your team or organization. But when you shared it with others, you didn’t face enthusiasm; some people even resisted your idea quite a bit, while some people were quite indifferent.

You’ve probably wondered – How is it possible they don’t get it? Why don’t they see that my idea is great? Very often we can hear things like – “people don’t like change” or “people resist change”. I don’t think it’s true that people don’t like changes. Continuous improvement and readiness to adopt new ideas and trends throughout human history have proven the opposite. Also, I believe that is it incorrect to say that people are resisting changes; people are just responding to changes that are imposed on them or their environment.

Maybe that response to change is not what you expected and wanted, but it still doesn’t mean that people don’t like to change or that your idea is bad. It just might mean that people are not convinced that they should change with you… and they are just responding to change, not resisting the change.

Reasons for this may be different, but in most cases, it is that people who lead change initiatives are ignoring the change dynamics. They view change as a linear process without taking into account that they are dealing with a social network and a complex adaptive system. Organizations are living systems, not machines. To deal with such a system, it is necessary to have a more holistic approach to organizational changes.

Management 3.0 perspective on organizational change

Management 3.0 offers its perspective about change management in organizations and how to support change initiatives. This is the perspective that implies if we are serious about change in a complex social system, then we need to understand four aspects of change management, originally published in Jurgen Appelo’s, How to Change the World, the 90-page booklet.

Dance with the SystemA social network is complex and adaptive. It will adapt to your actions, and so you must adapt to the network. It is like dancing with a system. A complexity thinker understands that change rarely follows a straight path, and usually involves some bruised toes and elbows.

Mind the PeopleUnderstand that people are crucial parts of the social system and that people are different. There’s no one-approach-fits-all. Also, just asking people to change is rarely enough. Diversity is what makes complex systems work, and thus a diversity of methods is crucial when dealing with people.

Stimulate the NetworkUnderstand how behavior spreads through a complex system. In a social network, it is all about individuals and their interactions. Behaviors spread like viruses, and social network stimulation can help overcome the resistance to change and transform an entire organization.

Change the Environment People always organize themselves within the context of an environment. The environment determines how the system can self-organize, and you may be able to tweak the environment. Since people’s behaviors depend on their environment, if you change the environment, you will also be changing the people.

All models are wrong, but some are useful

All models are wrong, but some are useful

George E. P. Box

This is a famous quote often attributed to the British statistician George E. P. Box. I believe George wanted to point out that simple models can be useful for making sense of complex situations even if they are not 100% correct. Also, it should be taken into account that complexity requires us to seek multiple perspectives since there is no one answer to something as complex as a social network.

This leads us to the idea that it is good to take different models and combine them. When you combine different ideas from multiple sources, a new idea can emerge that brings together and enhances existing ones. Guided by such thinking, a Change Management Supermodel was created. It is called a supermodel because it brings together a few smaller well-known models for change, each addressing one of the previously described aspects that require our focus:

Dance with the system, using the PDCA model 

Mind the people, using the ADKAR® model 

Stimulate the network, using the Adoption Curve model

Change the environment, using the Five I’s model.

Once you understand the supermodel, you will be in a good position to bring change initiatives into something as complex as a social network.

Author: Vladimir Kelava

The Change Management module is part of the Management 3.0 Foundation Workshop.  Join us for a two-day workshop if you want to hear more about change management and the supermodel (among other things). Also, you will get a chance to play Change Management Game and see why it only takes 34 questions to find the answers on how to change the world.