Empowering Organizational Change

31 Jul Empowering Organizational Change

By Matthew M. Thomas, COO / Senior Design Partner at Design Group International

© 2017

Empowering organizational change is one of the most significant challenges of true leadership. Empowering change goes beyond leading your organization in the direction you want to take it. Empowering an organization to change is all about increasing its capacity to do so.

Most of us don’t really find out about our organization’s capacity for change until we are already in it, and suddenly, we get some sort of reaction that causes us to stop and take stock of our situation. No matter whether we have reached that point or not, there are at least three things we can do to help increase our change capacity.

First, to empower change we first have to empower learning. Empowering learning comes about not just by continuing education programs and encouragement to read a book together – although those things are helpful. Ultimately, it is our response to failure that can empower learning. If our “failure posture” with ourselves and those who work for us is “what are we learning” instead of “whom can we blame” or “whom can we punish”, we truly begin to empower and encourage learning throughout our organization. If we maintain a blame/punish stance toward failure, no matter how much we send people to conferences or how much we pay for training, our organizations will learn that we that we are more about technical capacity and conformity, rather than discovery. Instead, when we meet failure with “what have we learned,” we can give people the energy and the boundaries to push through to the next level, and they might discover something new none of us saw before – which will benefit us all.

Learning is essential to building change capacity because most significant change requires us to adapt to new circumstances, and this adaptation will require us to learn something new. Beyond that, empowering learning has knock-on effects which we can also encourage.

Empowering learning, particularly by shifting from a blame/punish stance to a “what can we learn” stance, empowers creativity. Creativity empowers change because people get in the habit of reframing situations to find solutions that are not readily apparent. Creativity, coupled with the freedom to experiment, knowing that blame and punishment will not rain down, increases agility and resiliency throughout organizational systems, which are essential building blocks for empowering change.

Second, we can empower organizational change by practicing grace and forgiveness. Grace holds a posture of favor, kindness, and goodwill; forgiveness allows for us to acknowledge when wrong has been done, and yet release the one who has done us wrong from the payback they are otherwise due. This empowers change by allowing us to increase trust and reduce defensiveness simultaneously. Those who are fans of the work of Patrick Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team will immediately recognize that building trust and openness is foundational to actually achieving results. When the results we seek are organizational change, our teams have to be that much tighter, since we are often re-shaping our team’s entire frame of reference.

Third, we empower organizational change by resisting jumping immediately to solutions when problems present themselves. Instead, we take the time to frame the problem with the stakeholders involved in the problem, and allow the solution to emerge. This is especially important when different teams have different needs or preferences, and this creates conflict on how something is to be done. Allowing conflict to surface, instead of shutting it down by providing a solution, ends up helping each team reframe their position toward being one of the whole, rather than just their own team. This is particularly important because quick solutions are usually technical in nature – “I need a report,” for instance – when the underlying issues likely will require teams to discover those issues that aren’t readily, immediately apparent and adapt to new ways of working together.

Empowering organizational change really is an art form rather than exact science – but by empowering learning, practicing grace and forgiveness, and resisting immediate solutions, we can help increase our capacity for change, even if we can’t see what the changes will be yet, or what the solutions will be. What will you do to empower change in your organization?

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