Most leaders say they adapt well to change and some even say they relish it. What can be maddening about the change process is that its basic nature is not something we are comfortable with. Some leaders want to believe that change can be a mechanical process if they do it properly. Mechanical change is linear and progresses on a timeline that is predictable. The components of the system are understood and innovation has a known cause and effect. Mechanical change is top down, monitored and controlled in a central hub. With mechanical change, the harder you work, the more results you achieve.

We see evidence of mechanical thinking when leaders give their people training and expect them to change the way they think and work. Unfortunately, you cannot hand employees a new tool (or idea) and expect them to change in any predictable way.

Put people into the equation and you can forget about mechanical change. Organizational change is organic, rather than mechanical. Think of your organization as a living, breathing entity. It is a complex system with many variables, some of which are not completely understood. What you do in one part of the “body” also impacts other areas. In this vital system, even too much of a good thing can be bad. Parts that look similar are not interchangeable, and often they react unpredictably to change. Making meaningful change in this organic system requires both inside out and bottom up action. Monitoring and control are dispersed and also coordinated to account for the high degree of interdependence among parts of this organizational “being.”

What derails many change efforts is an intolerance for bad results. The reality is that if you are making transformational change in your organization, your results will probably get worse before they get better. Change also takes much longer than people anticipate. Some change processes are discontinued because of a leadership turnover or an unwillingness to continue the hard and unsettling work that drives real change.

Organizational change starts with the right mindset. You need to be prepared for prolonged ambiguity, learning on the fly and adapting quickly to meet the needs of your changing organizational body. Speeches, plans and accountability charts don’t produce change. True change happens at the molecular level, where seemingly insignificant factors can make the difference between success and failure. Little things make big things happen (John Wooden).

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