Organizations don’t change, the people in them do

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Organizations don't change, the people in them do

I don’t think you can do anything to impact an organization or change organizations by trying to change “the Organization.” Granted the organization is an entity, a living organism and all that. However, I have heard people ascribe behavior to ‘the organization’ which I think is convenient but not effective when we are trying to impact change. For example, I don’t know whom we are talking about when we say “they” or “the organization” needs to do this or that better, or change, and so on.

I think the only way to truly make an impact on an organization is to identify “who” in the organization is pivotal to that impact or change – who needs to make different decisions or take different actions; drive for different results and pursue different value or purpose, and so on. These individuals are the ones we are referring to when we say “the organization,” and unless we can name them and the required change, nothing is going to change.

True you can put in a system that guides or conditions the behavior of the people under that system. Moreover, in a certain way, that system is considered to be “the organization” and even gets recognized as the organization. However, that system itself was created or approved by persons and is held in place, adaptively sustained and maintained by persons. When these persons leave, the system might continue in its last adapted state for a while, but eventually, it will evolve into a new system based on the decisions and actions of the new people running it because the system exists only through the persons running it.

So, whatever it is we are trying to change or do in organizations, the quicker the focus shifts from this abstract “the organization” to “clearly identified and named individuals,” the quicker change or whatever is desired can be achieved.

Before closing this post, I should ask the question – Who is asking for change? If it’s a committee as a result of the output of a meeting, that’s not good enough. “The organization” cannot want change, “persons in the organization” are the ones who want change, this needs to be clear.

Secondly, the persons who want change is not the same as the sponsor for change. Ideally, the sponsor for change refers to a person in an executive position who supports the change, advocates it at the executive level, and ensures resources are made available to make the change happen. In reality, the change is an agenda that is often driven by forces external to the organization with which it is likely that no person in the organization truly understands or appreciates the intended purpose, value or result. The lack of internal connection to the purpose often happens because the purpose relates more to the collective while the people in the organization are more focused on the individual and self. The sponsor, in this case, tends to be the nominated executive to see the change through or the executive in charge of the function that the change agenda best fits. In this case, it is assumed that the person seeking change, you, are not an executive.

So for all the stuff you’re trying to do in your organization that requires change, ask yourself if you want the change or if you are responding to someone who wants change and wants you to drive it? Then use the questions below to find answers to how to make that change happen?

Who needs to make decisions differently? What decisions?

Who needs to take different actions? What actions?

Who needs to aim for different results? What results?

Who needs to have a different purpose or pursue different value? What purpose or value?

What knowledge and skills will make it easier for this Who to make these decisions related to wanting to make and achieve these shifts?

While it is ok for “who” to be identified as a role initially if you’re going to truly make a difference you have to work out the actual persons behind those roles because as many persons as there are, there will be that many purposes/values, results, decisions and actions to address. However, remember we are not looking for all the people in the organization who need to change. No, we are looking for the persons who hold the system that needs to change together, the persons whose change truly changes the whole system. Most times we know these people, and they aren’t the ones seeking change. Since we can’t change them, we resort to everything and everyone else except the one thing or key persons that we know will make the change happen.

We have a lot of the “how” down quite strongly, but we fail in directing our “how” actions to the right “who.”

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