How does change happen? Slow; like ants moving grains of sand, like the water dripping a rock, like a rip that rends wider fraying the edges of the fabric? Fast; like jolts of electricity, tiny ripples of shock, disorienting, dislocating? When change feels so slow, even imperceptible — it’s hard to believe it’s even happening. Moving too fast can feel like chaos, even if there is a plan, if you don’t know it, it can be too hard to see the pattern as it’s happening. Change dissolves into fragmentation or worse, anarchy.
I understand new habits, new ways of operating over time, interrupting daily routines and rewriting previously ingrained behaviors. At first, it’s awkward and hard to remember, but after time it becomes the default. When you no longer have to waste effort debating yourself, you can relax — you know how it works. One more thing off your plate. I know how this works because I have formed and broken habits my entire life, everyone has. We adapt and adjust.
The favorite coffee spot is only a habitual stop when it’s on the way to work, construction and new traffic patterns prompts me to break and then form a new habit. Check out this cute travel mug for my home brewed coffee! This is change at a personal level. I test and match my behaviors to my values. I value supporting local businesses, but I value my reputation for being prompt more and I can’t risk being late. We test and match all day, every day. When the pattern locks in, we don’t change it. It’s more efficient to know that I don’t eat beef — no need to think about it again. The pattern matched my values, the habit is formed. Sometimes negative consequences act as a deterrent to breaking habits. I know and my family knows that if I don’t get my run, then I’m a very cranky person. On those groggy first steps, my brain reminds me that I am who I am because I do this, as if somehow the habit affirms my identity. Would I still be the same person if I did not? My family might believe this.
These are ingrained habits that make up the ebb and flow of the day, born of seismic changes that are still etched on my bones. I learned who I wanted to be, by testing out who I did not want to be. Change is the teacher, the pupil, and the test all in one.
An organization is not a person. So, how does it work for an organization? Real change has to be reinforced across different actions and plans spanning the entire organization. Hearing about change and experiencing it, are two different things. When the change is shallow, it stays on the surface and doesn’t permeate into the daily lives and habits of the people in the organization. Deep meaningful change, once absorbed, can feel like it has always been that way, like a habit that you can’t imagine life without.
But, how does a change take hold and move into an organization? What habits, structures, and organizational principles help the organization speed the process without creating chaos? What people levers push and pull change through the heart of the organization, keeping the idea alive and thriving even when no one is ready to buy into it yet? How can organizations take control of the change that is happening around them so that they are in control, as opposed to having change be something that happens to them? How can the organization test and validate behaviors against their values, then adjust? Find the patterns, reject the changes that don’t fit, and match the values to the changes? Just questions for now, more later.