Mastering organisational change: loading “apps” in people or upgrading their “human iOS/Android system”
By Rob Reiche July 4, 2018
Who would buy a new app to fix a device’s faulty operating system (iOS, Android, etc)? Would you load a new Spell-check when your Word system has got glitches?
For example, if your Microsoft device starts playing up, I’m sure it has been recommended that you reload your WINDOWS system. After all, software suppliers regularly encourage users to upgrade their operating system to the latest version to include fixes to identified problems.
And yet when you check out how we operate as human beings, we seem to keep adding apps (applications) to fix our often faulty operating systems.
That is, in total, our innate human nature includes our physical body, our human “operating system” and our instinctive behaviors. … Our innate human nature is made up of our instinctive behaviors, our human operating system and our physical bodies. Context Institute
Applying the “wrong fix” becomes so obvious when people are experiencing change; when the masks and coping mechanisms (system patches) no longer work. And yet organisations expect people to simply fit in with the new change (to rewrite their own operating systems) or exit.
The organisation’s response is straight forward; we’ll give you some training (help you load an app or two) as a cost-effective, quick and tangible remedy. So often I have witnessed this phenomenon over many types of change initiatives (incremental and transformational) and have found that even when individuals approach the change with a positive attitude, they struggle to come to terms with the implications of the change in their lives. They then become effectively “stuck”.
The situation can be particularly devastating where a leader is concerned. The result is a leadership crisis which, in my opinion, is the ultimate existential challenge for any organisation.
While most change management approaches are pretty exhaustive when it comes to applying the principles of change and change agents/champions are usually diligent in facilitating the change (often to the point of “overkill”), many individuals get left behind. These “difficult/messy” cases are then simply treated as “collateral damage” that results in a business decision “to let them go” (often at great cost to institutional knowledge).
So returning to the technology analogy, it is clear that most change management activities could be equivalent to plugging in “apps” that are useful and even necessary (for instance training in authenticity, resilience, problem solving, usually accompanied with diagnostics and checklists), and yet little discernable change can be detected in the ability to adjust to a new behaviour.
The underlying issue then is that the faulty “fundamental human operating system” is unable to process the change.
What is needed is a system upgrade; an operating system that is able to assimilate change naturally and easily. However, individuals do not always have a process/tool that could help the assimilate a new reality based on the change because most of us have been conditioned from an early age to see the world in a one particular way – we are not automatically equipped to later change our own fundamental operating system.
Fortuitously, while I was being trained in a leading change management approach almost thirty years ago, I was exposed to the work of Henry Nelson Wieman and the development of a process, Creative Interchange (CI), by one of its architects Dr. Charles Palmgren. Confronted by compelling evidence, I have used CI in many different situations and am convinced that CI can “unstick” individuals facing change.
The ability to successfully embrace major change through CI has certainly been true of my own experience.
So I now regard CI as one of the key processes for upgrading the human operating system (others include procedures such as reflective practices like mindfulness and neuroscience techniques); once it is adopted in an organisation as a multiphase process for people to engage with each other, it increases the ability to identify new and diverse perspectives and facilitates creativity for building a new and unique reality that never existed before. The result is both a truly creative outcome for the change and a shift in the mindset of those involved in the process.
In a world of “instant gratification”, we can be seduced by the prospect of the quick fix – often stated as a business imperative by the organisation. However organisations have found that the compelling change strategy of “ripping off the Band-Aid”, comes at a high cost. The cost of change is always significant and it is only a question when, rather than if they will pay. For instance, the very high cost of damage control can cripple change efforts.
I believe that in the final analysis, investing in “human apps” may give some short-term gain in the change process. But it is only when one prepares key individuals/leaders with the ability and willingness to upgrade their own “operating systems” that organisations can claim real change mastery and sustainability.