The Ability to Change

By Louis Mbani Atangana, B.A.A., M.A.P., Adm.A., organisational development counselor


The reality of our existence

We are born, we live and we will also die… this is human existence, and in my opinion, it can be summed up in one word: change!

Change is therefore a reality that humans can never escape, whether in their private or professional lives. However, if we are able to better control private life changes, organizational changes are often out of our control because of their greater level of complexity. Our children’s school, our neighborhood grocery store, a government ministry, our favorite theatre troupe, the telephone company… are all organizations that must change faster and faster, in an environment that has become unstable, turbulent, unexpected and practically uncontrollable.

From point A to point Z?

If we accept the fact that our life is a process of change, we may realize that the starting point is when we are born and the end point is when we die. Some may ask: “are you sure that the starting point is birth?” or “don’t you believe in life after death?” Let’s avoid these metaphysical arguments and consider that birth and death are our start and end points, i.e. point A and point Z in our lives. Between the two points, we go to school and get a diploma; we move and settle elsewhere; we work until retirement; we start projects that lead us to results… This line of thinking from start to end gives us the impression of being able to control our existence and find security. But, are things always that simple? Of course not, because we are human beings: we are diverse and changing; as are our lives.

As for the organizations that we have created, they are very much like us. They are born and they die; they are diverse and changing. This is why organizational change based on linear logic, from A to point Z, no longer works!

The dinosaur method (or ancient method)

 Studies on the subject are practically unanimous: the multiple changes happening in our organizations fail 80% of the time… what a mess! Even worse, the damage is more significant on a human level. We all know someone who is unhappy at work because of changes that were imposed upon them.

Employees generally undergo organizational changes that, in themselves, are not the source of the problem… change being an integral part of life! The problem is that some executives still apply the ancient method that consists in “formatting” change by going from point A to point Z. They remain locked up in their ivory towers, with their executive teams and consultants; they trace the organization’s future as if inspired by a crystal ball. Everything is thought out, planned, organized… by them so that the employees will comply. Everything is done without considering life itself and human nature with its diversity and changes!

This type of management can only lead to negative results. To impose change upon your employees is to apply an antiquated method that is both inefficient and outdated. Methods to drive change have been constantly evolving since the 1950s; isn’t it sad to realize that some executives still don’t understand this?

Developing the ability to change

Everything changes in this world, and organizational change is no exception to the rule. The term “leading change” comes under criticism, because how can we lead change from one precise point to another in an environment that is impossible to control or to master completely?

Furthermore, change does not reflect human reality, when only defined from a starting and end point. Many starting points and many endings are possible, and between point A and point Z, there are infinite points along the road. It is the unexpected events, influences, mistakes, and periods of emptiness, bumps in the road, personal choices and more, that determine this! Nobody can tell others with certainty where change will start and end within an organization.

And so, when faced with complex daily and continuous change, we must all develop our ability to change in order to deal with it in a more positive way. And for executives, developing their team members’ ability to change means to experiment the process of change while becoming involved in each step (because you can’t implement change in others if you have not changed yourself…). In this optic, organizational change is no longer a linear process; it is an organic and dynamic one. It is no longer explained, it is experienced. It is thus both experiential and agile. We learn to live through activities, workshops, games, discussions, innovative initiatives, brainstorming sessions… that call on the collaboration of all the members of the organization so that they can co-create change, together!

And so, instead of spending too much time in conference rooms, making plans and discussing the future, executives should experience organizational change with their employees through intelligently conceived practical exercises.

Several studies show that we are now living in what Autissier[1] and Moutot call the era of the “experiential paradigm”. Employees are now at the center of their organization. The old, linear and mechanical methods to go from point A to point Z are outdated and no longer work: organizations and their members must co-create change in a progressive and practical manner. Under the influence of the new generation that seeks immediacy and practical experiences, employees are the principal players in this transformational process, and management must help them develop their ability to change.

By Louis Mbani Atangana, B.A.A., M.A.P., Adm.A., organisational development counselor

[1] AUTISSIER, David, et Jean-Pierre MOUTO. Le changement agile : se transformer rapidement et durablement, Paris, Dunod, 2015.