We have devoted an entire year to discussing Meaningful Change and how best to achieve it. What you may have noticed is that we did not talk about change management. Why? Quite simply, we think about the nature of change in entirely different terms. Change isn’t something you can manage; it is closer to a force of nature. You can foster it, cultivate it, but you can’t control it. It doesn’t have a start and end date, and it isn’t managed through a process. It is our belief that you enable change by focusing on the human capacity—proclivity even—for transformation.

During our deep dive into Meaningful Change we’ve explored collective creativity, immersive experience, and self-propelled learning. Across all three domains our humanity was front and center. Our shared desire to create, to connect with one another, to inhabit a state of wonder, and to take in new insights and experiences surfaced repeatedly. Outside expert David Small emphasized beauty, story, and playfulness in interactive educational experiences. IQVIA’s Emily Demarest described the value of curricula that allow colleagues to share ideas and help one another. George P Johnson’s Ben Hawkins said simply: “Human connection is central.” Similarly, CN-ers Kristen Bailey and Geoff Amidei focused on the transformative effect of spaces and processes that encourage people’s ideas to connect and collide. Our CEO Matt Saiia underscored the value of “wondrous questions.”

As we close out the series, we offer final thoughts on strengthening organizational capacity for meaningful change, without change management. These are tenets central to the nature of change—its primal quality—each appealing to a core dimension of our shared humanity:

  • Resistance to change is likely resistance to something else
  • Give your teams a compass, not a map
  • Provide opportunity for creative co-design
  • Humanize your systems and processes

Resistance to change is likely resistance to something else.

What we often brand as “resistance to change,” may more accurately be attributed to the loss of familiar ways, the frustration of trying to transform when structural barriers remain in place, or a belief that the change at hand will not result in progress or positive transformation but merely something different. In our blog, we have oft noted William James’ notion of the inherent conservatism of mind, the desire to cleave to the status quo, but equally true—as our very existence attests—is our innate drive to evolve. If the change you have identified is indeed transformative, then enlisting the power of aesthetic experience, appealing to the desire to create and connect, remembering the impact of storytelling are all ways of enhancing receptivity to the opportunities ahead.

Give your team a compass, not a map.

The pace and scale of change within an organization fluctuates, but change itself is a constant. Attempting to navigate change by providing members of an organization with a map—a fixed path—to follow when the ground under their feet is shifting leads to misdirection and frustration. What is more, a prescriptive approach limits pride of ownership and precludes the possibility of receiving valuable insight from the broader organization. In contrast, identifying a north star—a set of organizational values—by which people can set their course and guide their decision-making is far more effective.

The “compass” which enables individuals to stay the course is a set of tools around self-directed learning and decision-making. The modern age necessitates that leaders see their role not as imparters of knowledge but facilitators of better learners, learners who can self-direct their research and reflection, learners who possess the preparation skills to make informed decisions and identify new possibilities.

Create opportunities for collaborative co-design, and collaborative execution.

Consider the human desire to be part of something meaningful—to feel pride in one’s work, to impact one’s environment, to feel valued.  Then let this knowledge drive your approach. As leaders, intentionally create opportunities for collaboration both formal and informal. Establish forums for stakeholders from across the business and up and down the organization to come together in small or large groups to lend expertise and perspective to the challenges at hand. The cross-pollination of ideas leads to an aligned and inspired organization.  It also leads to better, stronger solutions. Rotate employees through different parts of the organization as a means of seeing collaborative conversations. Similarly, frame change communications not as one-way messaging, but as opportunities for two-way engagement. Inviting people to participate in change appeals to the human desire to realize untapped potential.

Humanize your systems and processes.

Systems and processes form the container within which new approaches to change must be realized. When rigid and outdated, they stifle the human instinct to transform. Systems and processes need to be wired to be adaptive and to be human. Understand the experience of inhabiting the universe that your organizational structures create and how this relates to fostering a culture receptive to innovation. Identify and remove silos in your organization, look to open architecture and platforms rather than application based systems, subscribe to a methodology that supports rapid prototyping, testing, and refining. Create open and flexible workspaces, and move towards a flat organization centered on teams.

What Does Success Look Like?
When an organization has embedded the capacity for change it is palpable. Doing “change management” well becomes irrelevant as your organization is constantly advancing. Conversations are abuzz with energy. New ideas are received with open interest. Ego takes a backseat. The question becomes “why not” instead of “why?” In this case, “risk” becomes something to be overcome, not avoided, and the fear of failure is replaced with the fear of not trying. Sounds like fun, right?