Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Changing Change

I've implemented some large scale organizational changes in several places over the years. Whenever I initially tell folks we will be changing, I'm always surprised with how quickly many folks agree that changes are needed. Why do they easily agree that change is necessary? Because typically they see themselves as not needing any personal change. But they always tell me that the person next to them needs to be changed.

That kind of "it's not me who needs to change, it's them" thinking can be a huge millstone around the neck of managers. Sinking into a comfort zone as manager will end your creativity and innovation. Without constantly craving change, you are not striving to make your organization continuously better. Contentment is the antithesis of successful management.

Unfortunately, sliding into complacency seems to be a natural path. Our culture assumes that it is normal for us to look for a state of stability. Build a perfect model and then don't change it - there is a Stalinesque simplicity in such an approach. For a manager, I would suggest that's the most dangerous path possible. If you are not changing, you are not adapting to external forces. If you are not adapting, you are deteriorating.

If the complacency assumption is correct, then it is human nature to look for stability and reject change, or at least pretend to accept change if it only means changing your neighbor. That means managers are inevitably doomed to sink into an infinite vortex of depressing stagnation. Of course, that makes no sense for successful management, so managers need to work with a different cultural assumption.

I would like to suggest an alternative mindset: change is addictive. This may seem counter-intuitive, but think about the rush of adrenalin created by something new. If that new thing is good, the feeling is positive. I think deep down, human nature is about being adaptive. I think we're fundamentally designed to adapt to new conditions, so managers have a responsibility to feed the need for change. Isn't that how we have successfully evolved as a species? Our role as managers is to be constantly on the lookout for new opportunities to improve and grow our organizations.

As managers, we need to replace a fear of change with desire for innovation and our normal state should be one of constantly searching for improvements.