When deep change becomes personal

by Justin Long on May 25, 2011

Mostly, we’ve focused on deep change in terms of organizations. While there is a great deal involved in organizational deep change, most of the “work” of organizational deep change is administrative. The cause of organizational deep change, however, is always personal deep change.

This is why I think “deep change” is so difficult. It’s because it’s not just about organizations changing, but about people changing. The resistance to change can be phenomenal–but it’s rarely, I think, at the organizational level. Instead, it’s at the personal level.

Sometimes individuals don’t see the need for change. They look at a situation and think it is one to be endured. This is a challenge that Seth Godin has written about in “The Dip”–when to give up and when to soldier on. You see a situation which calls for change in how it is handled, but they see a situation that’s just the result of persecution, or difficulties, or whatever, and needs to be endured.

Sometimes individuals think the proposed change is wrong. They see the need for change but they don’t like what’s been proposed, for one of many possible reasons. Perhaps they don’t think it’s a Godly change. Or perhaps they don’t think it’s a workable change. Or perhaps they don’t think any particular change will work at all.

Sometimes individuals are just apathetic about change. They may see the need for change but just feel like they can’t do it, and so they’ll soldier on as best they can–that whatever “deep change” is required, isn’t possible for them. “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” they’ll tell you, with a mournful sigh.

Getting an organization to change is never about the organization. It is always about the people. Dealing with people is perhaps the most complex, messy, difficult challenge facing us. First, to help people see the need for change. Then, to help them decide on the best way for change. And finally, to get them to actually execute.

I don’t have any silver bullet solutions to recommend. But in my experience, the one implication of the personal nature of change is that it cannot be easily mandated from the top down. Consensus for the change must be built from the bottom up. So if you’re anticipating change–it’s time to consider whether you’ve got enough frequent flyer miles, or at the very least what you’re going to do with all the ones you’re about to earn.

Some Questions (because I learn from Paul):

1. How many people in your organization see what you see of the need for change? (A tenth? A quarter? Half?)

2. Do you have an idea of what change is required? Can you clearly communicate it? Even to your spouse?

3. Are you willing to go visit with people, share what you think, listen to what they think, and build some consensus?


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Rob "Mags" Magwood September 1, 2011 at 8:38 pm

You’ve right on track here, Justin – how then do we invite, encourage, present, encourage, compel, motivate (etc. etc. etc.) people to engage change, and to manage the (inevitable?) discomfort that change brings? This causes me to sit back and wonder more deeply at my leadership role in the process: how much is me bringing about the change, and how much is instead “setting the stage” by helping ready others to bring the change?

Thanks, Justin.


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