Common Starting Lines for Change + Transformation
The arc of change always begins somewhere. Knowing where you are beginning, and honoring that is your starting place makes for realistic traversing along your road of travel. Work with "givens" so you can then introduce and innovate the "new". Being in this consciously aware dialectic helps you to bend the arc of change toward your more clearly articulated and rhythmicised objectives, priorities, and outcomes.
Below is a broad list of very common pheneomena leaders, teams, and organisations interface with. They are also the pheneomena most systems need help with to find new ways of working with them. Take it slow. These are robust. You want to work with, not against, them.
Current States You Can Almost Always Rely On
- People are hard-working, kind, committed, and thoughtful. (A statement of fact, not a question.)
- People are wired to know what they know and how to do what they do. Resistance is often about moving outside their known comfort zone, learning to find new comfort in feeling uncomfortable in the unknown zone.
- Getting from old to new thought patterning, processes, structures, and alternative behaviors may feel scarry, but is not uncommon demand in a change-based world.
- When an organization’s culture has been more unintentional than intentional, how things are done and how people interact is via passive learning, absorption, and passed on over time.
- Actively and healthfully questioning the why behind culture norms is rarely a first principle.
- When business units historically run independent of each other and horizontal leadership isn’t a cohesive team, that system silo pattern replicates as normal throughout the organization.
- A permission culture is deeply rooted, taught implicitly, rendering conditioned dependency.
- Fear exists systemically about ‘getting it wrong’ because “wrong” has a very real history of consequences. Rarely however does anyone really know what the real ‘it’ is.
- Functional gatekeepers e.g. legal, communications, technology, HR, and managers default to a culture of fear and resistance to change, limiting evolutionary mindsets and a culture of progressive change.
- Opening up teams to cross-function and collaborate feels threatening because people’s known will get disrupted.
- Complaining about what is dysfunctional, broken, siloed is easier, more convenient than doing the work of changing the dysfunction.
- Teaming/collaborating across functional boundaries (as a norm rather than a favor) feels unusual until it feels refreshing, strategic, and totally sensible.
- People are fearful and uncomfortable to ask someone for an answer, a need, clarification on an ask, and reasonable justification for taking time away from other priority demands.
- Starvation around being noticed, feeling validated, and understood runs rampant in the system — as individuals and as teams.
- Driving constantly toward outputs without a disciplined strategic practice of thinking broadly and openly about the questions, potentials, and possibilities is an ingrained habit.
- Raising and being in the questions and conversing together as a normal operating mode to identify priorities and innovate solutions feels foreign. Often because the system has arrived by default into a purely transactional design (for all sorts of reasons.)
- Deep enculturation to know (e.g. to project smartness, assert authority, control domains) versus to inquire first for shared understanding (e.g. exploring, questioning, testing, learning) exists robustly in the system.
- People are more accustomed to talking at each other rather than with one another.
- An authoritative, closed, directive (versus an open, inviting, clarifying) tone is more the norm.
- Data dumps versus data analysis/synthesis are customary.
- Connecting at a human level during meetings is unusual. For a simple example, saying ‘hello’ to one another at the beginning, making sure you know everyone’s names and how to pronounce them, or checking in before starting the reason for coming together during a meeting is not common, and even feels totally awkward.
- People feel deep frustration with the lack of clarity around and layers of (unnecessary) decisioning needed, to get anything done.
- A culture of senseless and bad meetings has created a culture of meeting (and likely email inbox management) as the "strategic" work rather than driving on tangible, measurable, and strategically prioritised business outcomes throughout the system.
- The senseless meeting culture embeds a false sense of busyness which becomes a narrative of busyness which becomes systemic and unconscious defenses with one another around engaging on meaningful, purposeful work... due to false busyness. It is a vicious and permeating loop.
- Meetings are either performance-based (show and tell) or show face-based (e.g. sit and get) versus purpose and action-based against priorities.
- People attribute disruption/disruptors through the lens of the org chart. A certain few disrupt (for good or bad) and a certain few are disruptors (for good or bad.)
- The system broadly speaking does not see and understand how change, disruption, furthering, and evolving are implicit to being in role, driving work, and realising outcomes.
- People feel left out of the loop about what is going on strategically and what they “should” know to do their job.
- The forcefield against change, particularly in large systems, is fortified without strategic, prioritised sense making and a courageous leadership presence.
- When a system has fear (real or imagined) running as a baseline, you have to start with the given, so you can begin to innovate the new.