We don’t own patterns, yet we are all responsible for them.
Some of us might be fortunate enough to be the first to observe and document a pattern, but we didn’t invent it, we uncovered it. Adjusting to the unfamiliar has been part of the human experience since the beginning of time. Any change-related pattern we use was in play long before any of us started practicing this craft. And even though some of us have fashioned our own particular way of articulating transition dynamics (nomenclature, principles, guidelines, axioms) the basic patterns can’t be commandeered by any of us.
So, we can’t take credit for conceiving the patterns of change, but because we did discover them, we have a responsibility—we’ve been entrusted, if you will, with their care.
As practitioners of this craft, our function is to pay attention to what people do and say when they implement change so we can continue the search for new insights to existing patterns, as well as stay alert to new ones. We must record what we learn about winning and losing at change and pass these lessons on to our clients as well as other practitioners.
Sharing our learnings is the only way we can build on each other’s work and in the process find even more patterns and/or deepen our understanding of the patterns already identified.
At a minimum, we need to dispense our pattern learning (i.e., tell each other what we are seeing as far as influential dynamics) and to the degree possible, we should also pass on the actual lenses we use to work with the patterns. For example, in previous postings, I made lenses (tools) available to share what we had learned about the patterns associated with degrees of difficulty of change and resilience, and what could be done with them.
Do we pool—or protect—what we are capable of?
Helping organizations successfully execute change does more than accomplish the initiatives at hand—it teaches people that they can architect their future more than many think is possible.
Managing change isn’t only about accomplishing specific desired outcomes for an enterprise, it’s also about de-victimizing people’s lives. Nothing strips away the bondage of victimization like the freedom to actually realize the future you intend for yourself.
None of us has the definitive answer that will address the change challenges we and those we serve will face in the coming years. Given that we are blessed with opportunities to have this kind of impact on people’s lives, how can we fail to open up with each other about what we are learning?
It is imperative that we have access to reliable change patterns we can use in our practice. This means we must either adopt the patterns others identify or search for them ourselves. When I began work in this field, definitive and dependable patterns were only beginning to emerge, so exploring for them has always been part of my professional experience.
After nearly four decades, we’re still uncovering patterns.
Because of the budding nature of change facilitation when I started, I had no choice but to build my own set of lenses. In the early 70s, when I began to pursue change professionally, people still speculated as to whether patterns of organizational change even existed. Many of us experimenting with the then-emerging field of work called “change management” assumed patterns were in play, but verification was mostly anecdotal and documentation was scant.
I had the good fortune of some early exposure to Alvin Toffler and became convinced that his prediction of “future shock” (the inability to absorb all the changes life thrust upon us) was likely to come true. It was also obvious that few lenses were available for addressing this phenomenon. Within organizations, clearly articulated change patterns were only beginning to surface, and a comprehensive implementation methodology was nowhere in sight.
The thought of future shock without a viable mechanism for addressing the challenges of change was a scenario too dangerous to accept, so in 1974, I embarked on what I thought would be a six-month research effort. I intended to identify as many patterns as possible, and then formulate a set of lenses that could be applied to determining when the various patterns were in play. I hoped to eventually formulate a replicable methodology for executing major organizational initiatives.
I couldn’t have been more wrong about the time involved in such a search. Conner Partners is now in its 36th year of operation and we’re still uncovering new patterns and deepening our understanding of patterns already identified. In 1992, I published the initial findings from our research with the release of Managing at the Speed of Change. The premise was that there are reliable, predictable patterns of decisions and actions that distinguish the leaders who successfully accomplish the changes they embark on from those who fail outright or end up with far less than they expected. We called these leaders “winners” and “losers”; the book was about what we had learned concerning how these two types of leaders differ, and what enables one to succeed at achieving the desired outcomes while the other fails.
The second installment came in 1998 with the release of Leading at the Edge of Chaos. In that book, the focus shifted to “nimble patterns”—what we had learned from leaders about creating exceptionally agile organizations. Here we described the characteristics of companies with a predisposition for ongoing change, and how leaders instill change DNA into their organizations.
As you can tell by the gap between the first and second books, we don’t publish our findings on any set schedule. Because of the client engagements we’re involved in, however, uncovering new relationships and insights take place on an ongoing basis. As a result, we’re constantly refining the set of lenses we use. It has now been 12 years since we published our latest findings…and it’s time to do so again. We’ve hit another juncture where we feel we should release what we’ve uncovered.
This time, however, instead of relying only on publishing another book, I started the blog you are reading as part of our “release” strategy for this round of sharing our perspective with other practitioner colleagues. With these postings, I hope to pass on all I can of what we have uncovered through our continued exploration.
The road ahead calls for a joint effort.
If we don’t build on each other’s work and advance together, what we can develop separately will be insufficient for the demands faced by our clients. It is vital that we share everything we can about the hard-fought lessons being acquired in our separate change-related pursuits. I believe we need to engage in far more professional exchanges than we typically do if we are going to significantly advance our understanding of the patterns so fundamental to our work. In doing so, we won’t just exploit the opportunities that come with collective learning, we will also have the chance to live up to the accountability that comes with this knowledge.
We all carry a responsibility to advance the professional field that we’re a part of. If facilitating change is as important to the well-being of the organizations we serve and the people in them as we say it is, I think we have an obligation to open up with other practitioners and pass on what is being learned.
I urge you to offer as much of what you are learning as you will. The way forward is about pooling what we are collectively capable of, not protecting what individual practitioners (or groups of practitioners) can accomplish in isolation.
Next series: Are You Stuck?