We often hear that change is hard, but in truth change is easy. Entropy alone ensures that all systems change, without any effort or desire.
What we are referring to when we describe the difficulty of change is the narrow subset of total possibilities that we actually desire. Specified change may be hard to achieve. Failure, one of the most common consequences of change, is easy. You can do nothing and still get there.
Understanding change may feel intuitive, but we can probably use some light structure to create a pragmatic framework. Something we can use for planning and execution.
We can consider change as structural, or social: ‘structure’ being the things that Organisations control, such as job titles, domains, infrastructure, and rules, and ‘social’ being the people that inhabit these things.
The two systems are connected, but not the same. They cast shadows onto each other, but are not entirely deterministic of effects.
You can change a formal structure, you can rewire the Organisation, and yet not change the tribal structure at all (or, worse, you can create conditions for conflict). And conversely, you may change nothing of the formal structure, and yet discover that the zeitgeist of the social has departed for pastures new. As our broader social context evolves, we see a general de-lamination of ‘belonging’ from structure, and from ‘engagement’ from work. There are simply more places that we can ‘belong’ to – beyond work – and more things we can engage in. From online gaming communities to hobby woodworkers, Etsy shopkeepers, and vinyl collectors, there is a community to suit all desire and pockets. Work can almost get in the way of a good time – or at least it will until AI steals it away from us.
One way to view change, from a leadership perspective, is to consider the desired outcome, and the devolved agency possible. What do you really need to do, own, and control, and what can you simply frame.
Understanding this is part of seeing the Organisation as an entity of structure (what you can see, own, and control) and tribe (what you may influence, but which essentially colonises or inhabits structure, and which lies beyond your direct control). This gives us a view of change in two planes: the formal and the social.
Or to put it another way, a view of change as an evolution of story and belief, against a backdrop of structure.
In this sense, Change Leadership is to understand how you create a scaffolding of structure, and a space of devolved agency. How you create border and boundaries, but relinquish aspects of determinism and control.
Most likely our evolved Organisations will be viewed in both ways: structures of codified strength, but also of collective and engaged capability, structures of story and community.
For me, this relates back to the language of leadership at the intersection of systems, alongside an understanding that our Organisational capability, as measured in direct terms of productivity and effect, is not purely and engineered feature, so much as an emergent cultural, social and tribal one. Create the conditions, and it may occur.
A contemporary understanding of change would be couched in these terms: how do you change, whilst doing less. Controlling less. A story of the re-authored and dynamic Organisation.