A toolbox for change
"I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my right arm for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” Oliver Wendell Holmes
Purpose of Document
This paper follows through on the intentions of its predecessor “Comprehensive Organisational Development” which articulated the rationale for a fresh approach to this topic. Where that paper could be seen as answering the question “Why?” this one is concerned with “How?”
Framework: Integrating the dynamics of human change
We have described a trajectory of human history affecting individuals and organisations showing a growth path of increasing complexity in which the first stage is to build a platform of order[i]. Prior to this there is a dynamic assertive scenario that is a creatively chaotic breakaway from the constraints of founding traditions. Finding rules to live by manages that chaos. Too much that is rule-based becomes constraining however. To expand beyond those constraints, reason had to rise above rules, beginning the next stage filled with strategies for excellence and entrepreneurial freedom to innovate. In turn, the industrialised and scientific perspective of that new stage squeezed out humanness and caused organisations to treat people as objects and resources. A third stage followed in which the values of care, of human bonding and of self-knowledge asserted themselves. Any organisation must now encompass these three ways of being and thinking, blending compliance with rules, strategic rationalism and human care as it moves forward.[ii]
“The rate of change is not going to slow down anytime soon.” John P Kotter
We then described how the turbulence, unpredictability and pressures of today’s life conditions with multiple stages in play together demand a fresh response which builds on the integration of all the previous stages and then takes a major step forward. In order to adapt to the many interactions, unforeseeable events and competing requirements organisations must make a transition. They need increasingly agile and responsive structures, systems and processes peopled by individuals who are more than ever empowered in their expertise and accountable by outcomes rather than by procedural compliance.
In the short and medium term the requirement is to remove blockages, free constraints and build the maximum of flexibility and flow into the organisational being. The eventual goal may be the development of the self-organising enterprise. Many leaders and leadership teams have been preparing and building capacities for such progress using models of “resonant”, “evolutionary” and “conscious” leadership underpinned by emotional intelligence, wider spectrums of awareness and mindful approaches. A few organisations have entered the “flexibility” path using templates such as Dee Hock’s “chaordic” approach and Peter Senge’s “learning organisation” model.
Interior and Exterior: Mindsets and Structures
These models of leadership and the approaches to organisation have primarily focused on the ways people think, the Values they hold and on how to change the cultures that have formed. Another famous comment from Peter Drucker is that “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. Similarly, Peter Senge starts from the requirement for “a genuine vision (as opposed to the all-too-familiar ‘vision statement’)”. When this is present, “people excel and learn, not because they are told to, but because they want to.” John Mackey likewise places “Purpose” in pole position in the four tenets for Conscious Capitalism.
Mackey also follows Senge by echoing his call for systems thinking with his own perception that alongside other multiple intelligences (Physical, Intellectual and Spiritual), “Systems Intelligence” is an essential component. This is what Senge says of Systems Thinking:-
“Systems thinking is a discipline for seeing wholes. It is a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things, for seeing patterns of change rather than static 'snapshots.' It is a set of general principles -- distilled over the course of the twentieth century, spanning fields as diverse as the physical and social sciences, engineering, and management.... During the last thirty years, these tools have been applied to understand a wide range of corporate, urban, regional, economic, political, ecological, and even psychological systems. And systems thinking is a sensibility -- for the subtle interconnectedness that gives living systems their unique character.”[iii]
There is a limit to what can be achieved by working purely with mindsets, values and culture on their own. As Senge also says, “Structure Influences Behaviour”. The systemic aspects of the organisation arose out of past requirements, previous leadership perspectives and earlier sets of values. They need to be aligned with and supportive of the new culture and values. The internal changes which we are fostering in people’s mindsets are intended to become behaviours. Systems have an exterior life relative to leaders and employees and where they do not support the new behaviours they will inhibit the development of new cultures. Systems thinking is the essential component in ensuring they fit and is at the core of Simplexity.
Systems thinking in action: Delivering aligned exteriors
What do we have to do to create fit? Although some people have a natural aptitude for systems thinking it is possible to break down the components of a systemic approach so that others can work with it. Much can be achieved by taking the right steps; these largely rest in knowing what questions to ask to get inside the dynamics of a system.
- Map the stages of development
Organisations and people develop. As with the stages described earlier, there is a path that we follow. If you were in the Kalahari you would need to think like a Kalahari bushman in order to thrive, just as they could learn and adapt to urban living. Stages are reflective of and responsive to the external conditions because the ways that we think are how we adapt to those conditions. However, those ways of thinking set up new conditions and we are then required to bring out the values and ways of thinking to cope with those. We can ascertain where in that developmental trajectory, organisations and individuals are placed. There is much more to this than I have indicated above and the full theory is complex. However like taking a helicopter view, the simplexity of it – the simplicity that emerges on the far side of complexity – reveals patterns. We can see how the organisation is positioned as a whole, and how leaders and other players within it are thinking and acting. We can see where the blockages are, where the organisation is not matching the requirements of its life conditions and where individuals or teams are not aligned with the organisation. These pictures are produced using online self-assessments which drive reports that help us know what the organisation needs.
- Map the cycles of change
In adapting to shifting conditions change follows a typical pattern. When conditions are stable no change or only minor adjustment is called for. As conditions shift a dissonance is felt. We know that we have lost the alignment and the question of “what’s next?” arises. Often the next steps are visible. We can flex creatively and make adjustments that re-establish a feeling of stability and alignment.
Sometimes the next steps are not visible or blocks are present such that we are prevented from making the visible steps to resolve the tensions. These scenarios can build up energy, sometimes in a positive way that mobilises the added capacity to shift blocks or calls forth a creative inspiration. Sometimes the build-up is less healthy and produces frustration or anger. This may lead to a more forceful attack on the barriers in order to create the freedom to move, though this may be destructive and is not guaranteed to lead in a successful direction. But whether healthy or not, the energy released after barriers are breached is often a strong and surging force which can be mobilised to a fresh purpose.
We are able to map how an individual’s energy is distributed between these various states and capacities, and produce an overall picture of teams and organisations. We can detect when blocked states are building up, and even who perceives the tensions most strongly. Early detection can avoid the more explosive responses and seeing individual or team differences can lead to proactive conversations because those who most detect the problem may also have more awareness of the solutions.
- Recognise readiness to work with change
Often it is assumed that if change is required, the organisational readiness must exist. In reality there are some conditions that we should be aware of.
- If the solutions are not in place for earlier problems then there is a risk of adding further instability.
- If the new problems are being detected in some areas but are not felt by most of those involved, the change will be met with resistance since they have no incentive to engage.
- The capacities and potentials in the individuals and groups involved must be present. If not then change cannot begin until the capacities have been brought in or developed
- If the insight into the causes of problems and potential solutions does not exist already, then this must be developed before a change program can be started
- It is not sufficient to see the new solutions. Before beginning a change program the barriers to change should be identified and means to overcome them prepared
- All too often change programs are implemented but old ways re-assert themselves. We must plan beyond the change projects. Before beginning the change program, it is necessary to know how the new situation will be maintained and reinforced
- Calibrate the magnitude and type of change
There is very rarely any attempt to qualify what “change” means. In practice we can recognise various degrees of change, and two broad categories of change which are significantly different.
These degrees of change reflect the cycles of change described above. During stability only minor changes are called for, fine-tuning and upgrades to existing ways or systems. When dissonance enters there are typically two responses – hunkering down in known ways that worked before or stretching capacities to fit the new demands. All of the options so far are described as first-order change.
Second-order change is of a different character. Sometimes there will be a major vision for change arising from the dissonance but more commonly it is the scenarios that arise when solutions are not visible or are blocked that are more radical. The barriers must be attacked and significant up-shift is required. These are substantial reorganisations demanding different kinds of leadership. Leaders who are uncomfortable with this 2nd-order change will fail to be sufficiently bold. Conversely, when first-order change is what’s needed, leaders inclined naturally towards second-order change can bring disruption and destruction, failing to preserve that which works well. We need to know what level is required, and assess who in the organisation is suited to lead or be inside the change team.
- Match leadership and approaches to requirements
The different stages of development that we have described call for differing styles of leadership. Transition from one stage to the next benefits from leadership that is slightly ahead of the organisation’s growth curve. Too far ahead and they will find it hard to retain support. If not ahead at all they will not have the dynamic required to rise above the level of the problem.
Two fundamental question asked within the Simplexity approach are:
HOW should WHO lead (or manage or teach) WHOM to do WHAT, using WHICH TOOLS, and WHERE?
CHANGE FROM WHAT, TO WHAT? (defining the WHAT? in the above)
You would not, for example, select the headteacher who operates brilliantly in a consensual, well-supported and orderly middle-class neighbourhood to lead the crisis intervention team in a failing inner-city school dealing with drugs, gangs and social challenge. Simplexity toolkits enable us to evaluate who is able to occupy the appropriate place in the developmental dynamic. At a more granular level they enable us to harmonise teams and to see who is best able to support the leaders.
Describing WHAT? the change is may sound too obvious, but it is not uncommon for people to identify what they don’t want and merely seek “something different”. This is a particular danger when there are barriers to change. Destroying what you don’t want is not the same as creating what you do want, as revolutions everywhere have proved.
Knowing WHOM? depends on seeing where the organisation is in its development. Establishing what the current stage is also gives some indication of what is likely to be next in the developmental journey. Extending beyond that natural dynamic is generally a recipe for over-stretching and failure. It is also necessary to ensure that the previous stage is complete, providing an adequate platform for the next.
The toolkit also assists us in highlighting where there are alignments and misalignments in priorities and choices or mismatches between leaders and their organisation. In addition we can see into the systems level and know more about where team profiles and task requirements are mismatched.
There are so many tools on offer. Some which are excellent at one stage will fail at the next. Six Sigma and Theory U are both excellent, but not if used at the wrong time. Determining WHICH TOOLS? can be greatly helped by knowing what is likely to fit where.
- Tailoring communications
The different stages, and the people in them who are aligned with their Values, see the world in different ways and are motivated by different things. Because each stage arises in part as a reaction to what went before they are often naturally in tension. Each stage has a language that represents the things it warms to; each has language it is turned off by. This means that both management styles and communications must be tailored. If there is a change, each set of people needs to be motivated, persuaded and led in terms that are consistent with what they value. Failure to do this accentuates divisions and invites resistance. Skilled message articulation can be taught. Engaging in this thinking process also encourages the articulation of an “overarching goal” that will be perceived as a desired outcome by all.
Providing tools and templates for the alignment
The approaches and tools that follow are not necessarily all required, or not all required together, or always in the same order but over time there is a need to ensure that all the aspects described below are built in to organisational capacities. The organisation will often have covered many of them so it may only be needed to assemble or reconfigure the pre-existing elements, or ensure that they are present and recognised in a connected way.
To bring comprehensive alignment to the organisation involves scanning and integrating multiple elements. We need to ensure clarity of business purpose as befits the first step in Conscious Capitalism, but also because knowing where you are going is the first step in knowing what road to take. It is also the starting point for articulating a Vision, for crafting the “overarching goal” referred to above. Any strategy is evaluated in respect of its ability to assist the organisation in fulfilling its purpose.
We need to know clearly where we are starting from, to have an inventory of available resources and a map of the psychological culture that we are starting from. The more we have a picture of the connections between the multiple elements in the picture, the more successfully we are likely to develop the mesh which enables the flow by connecting everything to everything else.
That mesh is a blend of aspects in the internal and external environment. Ensuring that there is full awareness of all these aspects underpins the alignment of adaptations in the thought systems with the life conditions that they must meet. Both the internal and the external aspects may be worked with. We are dealing with undercurrents internally in people, culture and values as well as externally in financial conditions, changes in competitive pressures, new technologies, legislative influences and many more. Some of these may be more susceptible to change than others.
We are seeking a holistic perspective, a joined up picture that embraces the scenarios of risks, opportunities etc. as faced by the organisation. These will all influence strategic choices and determine the capacities that the new systems will require in maximising the organisation’s ability to respond adaptively to those scenarios.
Of particular benefit in the Simplexity approach is the recognition that there are three organisational templates that need to be in place, overlaid on or embedded in the organisation’s structures and systems.
- What gets the job done? This is the aspect that generally receives the most attention. While it is inevitable that it often takes priority, an excessive presence of focus on the day-to-day can be at the expense of responsiveness to change, adaptability, sensitivity to customer and supplier or employee perceptions and needs. It can also lead to focus on process more than effectiveness and on meeting internal measure rather than external satisfaction.
“The majority--85 percent--of a worker's effectiveness is determined by his environment” J Edwards Deming
- What manages getting the job done?
In all organisations there is a management layer which is responsible for day-to-day decisions about what happens in the X-template functions. It sets targets, manages priorities and oversees the connections between the elements, ensuring that materials are supplied when needed, controlling costs, dealing with human resource issues, providing reports and delivering the support infrastructure. This layer makes decisions about exceptions and manages crises.
As organisations grow, the command chains typically lengthen. While many organisations have already engaged with this challenge by flattening management hierarchies and reducing layers, the underlying approach has not often changed. There is a history of functional silos that are hard to break down and of a view that intelligence and decision-making must be located in the upper levels. The more this is the case, the less accountability, authority and responsiveness can be lodged with those who performing the tasks and have full visibility of the situations to be resolved. This creates an environment in which people are discouraged from using their intelligence, even when money has been spent on training them.
“Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.” Stephen R. Covey
- The Command Intelligence
Management theory oscillates much as other human ideas do. Management by objectives (MBO) set goals for employees, at root a behaviourist reward model which treated people like laboratory rats. It was followed by process engineering which embedded more of the collective intelligence inside the process itself and in the skills of those who were trained to operate the process optimally. However, this is insufficient to deliver ongoing improvement. The key to improvement in quality is feedback and learning. Both the people and the processes must take on board the new information about what works better.
This demands the existence of an additional functional template which sits outside of the day-to-day management and which collects, analyses and acts on the data regarding what is working and what is not. As well as managing the improvements to X and Y templates internally, this third template must be the guidance and direction for the organisation. It must perform the guidance, horizon-scanning, objective-setting. It needs to monitor the health of the organisation in relation to its environment, and be the early-warning system. It sets the strategy for what the organisation needs to learn, and for how its employees should be developed. It is the template most accountable to governance.
The Command intelligence needs feedback systems which monitor the company’s health beyond the mechanics of the X and Y functions. Most companies have good production and financial reporting capabilities. How effective these are depends largely on whether the right questions are being asked. This is like evaluating an athlete’s performance by their race times. The command intelligence requires higher-level feedback. It needs to detect a fuller picture of organisational health. Improving the athlete’s performance is likely to demand measurement of blood pressure, heart rate and nutrient status alongside filming their technique. The success of British cycling depended on further detailed work with cycle design and clothing. An important feature of the simplexity approach derives from designing the measures and life-signs monitors that will enable imbalances to be spotted and corrected, and support early responses to changing conditions.
A champion sheepdog obeys the shepherd’s commands, but it also blends instinct and learning to embody the embedded intelligence to know what is required even before the shepherd whistles. Companies are increasingly required to embed intelligence in order to be responsive, flexible and sustainable. They may not be fully self-organising but must develop in that direction.
The shift to simplexity is multifaceted. It has to employ multiple intelligences and increase the complexity of cognition both in leaders and within the elements and interactions of the organisation itself. Increasing intelligence through the organisation means reducing hierarchy, keeping command and control for the large-scale strategic changes, not tying up energy in the day-to-day. Building sustainability into the organisation demands a way of thinking that has a longer future than quarterly reporting, which may appease investors but will increasingly alienate customers, suppliers and employees.
The steps that have been articulated in this paper are those which address the internal and external alignments which provide the keys to delivering this new flexibility and flow. It blends forensic capability to ensure a comprehensive picture of what is. It offers the steps to frame a picture of what is to be and it has a full array of tools to map the journey from the first to the second in both inner terms (leadership, values, vision) and outer features (systems, processes, feedback measures, structures and constraints).
Many of today’s organisations have done much to develop the inner aspects in leaders and some have taken that development further into the employee layers. Taking this inner change into the outer features is at the heart of making the new thinking systems effective, deliverable and self-sustaining. The Simplexity approach offers increased completeness and understanding of how to match the inner and outer elements to deliver the more elegant, sustainable and responsive ways of operation which deal effectively with the stresses of a non-linear world.
Self-organization is not a startling new feature of the world. It is the way the world has created itself for billions of years. In all of human activity, self-organization is how we begin. It is what we do until we interfere with the process and try to control one another. Meg J Wheatley and Myron Kellner
[i] Based on Spiral Dynamics integral and the work of Clare W. Graves
[ii] See also the work of Ichak Adizes at the Adizes institute
[iii] “The Fifth Discipline pp68-69”