Change drivers


Post by Matthew:

Leading changes in organisations essentially means changing three key aspects. These are vision, systems and relationships. When change is led effectively all three of these aspects will come together perfectly. People will build and share a vision leading to planned actions to achieve a better outcome. Resulting from this is the review and streamlining of systems that support the plans and vision. Given an agreed vision and aims for the organisation, people have to be happy, motivated and contented in their teams. If all of these things are in place then the organisation will have the best chance of doing well, as:

  • It will know where it is going
  • It will have the capability to get there
  • Its people will be motivated to carry out the job

Sadly the kind of leaders who can develop all three of these areas, in balance, are inevitably rare. In my previous posting I observed that leaders had a change style. Robert Sternberg has observed that people tend towards either the Executive, Legislative or Judicial styles. Broadly (and crudely) that they do the job in the right way, that they want to rethink the way the job is done or they are critical observers of how things are done. There is another way to think about change styles. Your personality as an individual has three relevant traits:

  • Your Openness to Experience: Essentially this is the degree to which you seek new experiences. It correlates with the way you feel about changing an organisation. Change is hard for many people, and consequently they feel most comfortable when an organisation is very stable, and secure. People who love change are inevitably more likely to propose or lead more radical movement from the status quo.
  • Your Conscientiousness: This correlates with your degree of personal organisation, reliability and need for order in your life or work. If you have a strong tendency to conscientiousness, then the likelihood is that you will want to make your organisation more organised. It indicates a tendency towards systems, as this personality trait seems to be about imposing order on potentially disordered things to help manage them effectively.
  • Your Agreeableness: This trait is simply the degree to which you empathise with other people. Highly agreeable leaders will have a strong need to address peoples’ needs within the organisation.

It is easy to see how these three traits will say something about how likely it is that you will balance vision, systems and relationships in your own change leadership or management.

if you are really keen on change and have a strong sense of where your organisation needs to be going, the danger for you is that you will disappoint people. If you sell your vision as a great thing to strive for, then those who need structure and systems will be unable to get beyond that need and will consider your ideas “impractical”. if you can’t build happy and supportive teams, then motivation will drop and fearfulness about individual status or importance can begin to get in the way; at its worst, a culture of blame, and withholding information to protect status can form. this is a possible road to running a Frustrated Organisation.

If you major in organisation due to a high degree of conscientiousness, and you don’t have the two other change drives in balance, then you will run the strong risk of having an efficiently run team, that doesn’t feel particularly good fun to work in, and doesn’t have a strong sense of where it needs to go? People will feel that the systems themselves are the point. This results in people protecting what they do as they are not so focused on the “big picture”. This can be a clear road to an Apathetic Culture.

If your major drives are all about people and relationship building, then you are in danger of being seen as an empty leader, more of a charismatic or social person than an ideas leader. If you are successful in building good colleague welfare and relationships, but not underpinning them with solid systems and a clear vision, then all you have is a social team, looking after each other, but not clearly going anywhere. Part of taking an organisation somewhere new is the ability to persuade people to go to “places” that they don’t instinctively want to go; that can be hard if you have too much empathy for viewpoints that are not moving you forward. It is interesting to note that this state is inherently unstable. It is possible to imagine a team being most strongly driven by organisational drives and being apathetic, but surviving depending upon the need for change in your business. It is also possible to envisage a team struggling-on to make sense of a “big vision for change” as much of the instability and uncertainty may be felt as consequences of change. A happy and well cared for team with nothing to apply that well-being to, is pretty much impossible to imagine. That team will begin to organise itself. If you are happy in your team, and the systems aren’t good, you will propose some; you will be relatively skillful as a team about negotiating them. If you have no strong vision, you will grow one, since a relatively well-cared for team will want to acheive something together. This is a metastable state, and will only be a transition stage to something better. This cannot be defined as any kind of culture as it wouldn’t exist in any sustained way. You could call this state a Transition Culture.

It is interesting to note that the businesses that were outlined in the book, Firms of Endearment, (Sisodia et al), and which surprised by financially outperforming the often quoted “good to great” (Jim Collins) firms, all have “valuing their people and customers” as their defining style.

These are all extreme examples of change drives. Most people will have a balance of all three in some measure. When you are analysing the effect of any dominance in your style however, it is helpful to have considered the extreme examples. These extreme examples will still identify broad trends in your change style and will be more typical if you are more unbalanced in your change drives.

So as you reflect on your leadership, why don’t you ask a wide cross-section of colleagues to put your drives in rank order. Once you have a wide set of these opinions, spend some quality time reflecting on what effect you are having on your team?

I spent time with a close colleague today who knows my style pretty well. I asked her to put my “change drives” in rank order, and she had no difficulty in coming up with the following:

Jointly 1 and 2 were Relationships and Vision, although if pressed Relationships by a nose in her view. Easily at 3 was Systems. 

Posted by Matthew

Thanks to for the image

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