Change Codes (by
Codes are distilled from our observations of hundreds of organizations,
communities, and families going through change. They seem to remain valid
at different scales and in different contexts. Test them in your environment,
and tell us what you find.
1 Stay grounded
Never change for the
sake of change. Never stay still for fear of change. When you move, move
whole-heartedly. This helps keep the organization, the family, the relationship,
clear and unconfused.
2 Face forward
Change is a one-way
gate. You can't "go back to the way things were" any more than you can unscramble
eggs. Even changes that seem cyclical or circular (the company lays people
off, hires them back, lays them off; you break off a relationship, start
a new one) actually work more like a spiral: you may be on the same side
of the curve again, but it's not quite the same - every time is different.
3 Expect change
It is in the nature
of complex adaptive
systems to change. (You are a complex adaptive system. So is your organization.
So is your family, and your relationship.)
4 Expect a bumpy
The most common rhythm
of change is what paleontologists call "punctuated equilibrium" - long periods
of what seems to be "business as usual" punctuated by rapid, chaotic change.
5 Look for change
at each scale
Changes can happen
between the organization and other organizations, between the parts of an
organization, between individuals, or within individuals - and each change
causes other changes at the higher and lower levels.
6 Expect change to
Changes work together,
like an eco-system. Each change makes a whole series of other changes possible
- and shuts off still other changes before they can get started. Mr. Ford's
invention of the mass-produced automobile precipitated myriad changes in
roads, the oil industry, the law, the nature of war and the social structure
of Burma, among other things - at the same time that it stopped the development
7 Expect the unexpectable
Even when there is
no particular outside influence to cause it, look for the paradoxical or
strange result: add capacity and production falls. Lose a client, gain two
others as a result. Solve the communications problem between finance and
design, and the motor pool slows down. Simple causes, interacting over and
over, can produce complex and surprising effects. Simple, "linear" changes
in input can produce shockingly "non-linear"
outputs. We see this all the time in organizations. But we tend to attribute
the weird outcomes to outside influences, or to hidden factors that had
escaped our notice. In reality the system itself, even a seemingly simple
one, can produce very strange "emergent"
outcomes. If we understand this and search for them, we are more likely
to be ready for paradoxical, non-linear, strange behaviors.
8 Tell the truth
Information is the
fiber of self-organizing adaptive systems.
Tight control of information - which is normal in organizations and families
- stymies successful adaptation. Information flowing upward allows the organization
to evolve. Information flowing downward keeps the organization focused.
Information flowing side-to-side keeps the organization coherent. Much of
the atherosclerosis of organizations and relationships comes from blocks
to the free flow of information. Without good information, people get paranoid.
They build their fortresses higher. Tell the truth about everything, as
far as is possible within the law and privacy concerns.
9 Increase communications
If you are going through
changes, you need everyone on board. Increase not only the volume but the
types and directions of communications. Make sure they are not only one-to-many,
but also many-to-one and many-to-many. This is as true of a family or relationship
as it is of an organization.
10 Listen actively,
You need to know what
your customers really think, what your subordinates really think, even what
your suppliers, neighbors, competitors, and union stewards think. You may
or may not enjoy hearing it, but it is vital to you. Do it formally, with
surveys and focus groups, or informally in bull sessions and casual conversations,
but do it. If you do it just enough to seem like a caring boss, a sensitive
mate, or an involved parent, you will soon engender bitterness in those
you are pretending to hear. You must do it with your whole self, and you
must act on what you hear.
11 Notice the feedback
your system gets
The organization, in
its collective mind, has a model of "the world out there." It anticipates
the future situation in that world and makes predictions about what will work:
"If we make make the cars bigger, people will buy more of them." Or: "People
will gladly pay more for better service." Then it looks for feedback: did
it work? Is that what "the world out there" is really like? What sort of feedback is
your organization getting? How does it get that feedback?
12 Notice how your
system anticipates the future
Notice this in the
way it is put together, the decisions it makes, the direction it moves.
Every system positions itself to deal with what it really believes is about
to happen. If it isn't organizing itself the way you think it should, chances
are that (correctly or not) it doesn't believe in the same future that you
do. How are you organized? How is your family organized?
13 Widen your environmental
Go beyond "competitive
intelligence," the art of scoping out what the other guy is doing. Ask what
technical or organizational achievement could put you both out of business.
How could your customers be satisfied so much better, easier, faster, or
cheaper that you could not compete? If you are a video store, what happens
when people can download any movie they want on demand over the cable lines?
What might the equivalent be in your business? How could you pre-empt the
14 Don't rely too
much on forecasts
They are an important
part of your environmental scanning, but they can be fatally flawed by lack
of information, faulty assumptions, or the appearance of major new factors
outside the range of the forecast. No one can see the future.
15 Lay out a vision
of a future that works
We all deal better
with change if we have somewhere important to go. We can't see the future,
but we can envision a future that is both attractive and possible. This
future must be expressed freely throughout the system. Each part of an organization
must be asked for its own image of how that vision becomes real. A couple
must work out a vision of a common future, and express that vision freely
and frequently to each other. So must a family, or a community. A compelling
vision guides us to changes that are appropriate, and results in a "future
16 Make up what you
Make it up as close
to the action as possible. Organizations are run by "rule sets" - rules
of thumb, conscious or unexpressed, that guide how the organization and
the people in it, are expected to behave. Imported "rule sets" (such as
zero-based budgeting, or a directive from the board) may embody great wisdom,
but if they are to work they must be adapted to the local reality. One example:
in 1985, when Disney imported a crack financial team from Marriott, the
new team's "rule set" had to be changed significantly to deal with Disney's
creative film-making and theme-park business. For "rule sets" to be consistent
with the integrity of the organization, they must come from leadership,
from the top down. But for them to be effective, useful, and lively, they
must come from the bottom up - they must be informed by what works.
17 Watch behavior,
What your organization
actually does, and how it does it, is more important than how it is put
together - and the behavior can change much more swiftly than the structure.
Structure can mislead us. The board's ultimate power, for instance, is only
important if the board is inclined to use it. On the other hand, the power
of workers to help, to hinder, and even indirectly to influence the direction
of the organization is often greater than their position on the "wiring
diagram" would admit.
18 Avoid the "Daddy
Too often, confronted
with a difficult change, we refer upwards, to what "they" ought to do: the
government ought to, the CEO ought to, headquarters ought to. Or we refer
to the past: this should have been in the contract, we should have gotten
into this earlier, our parents should have raised us differently. This is
the "Daddy Syndrome," and it is a key way to be completely right (your perceptions
may well be dead accurate) and still do yourself no good at all.
19 Use what you have
Ask, "What can we
do here? At this level? With what we've got? What resources do we have?
How quickly and easily can we get more? Who can help us do this? What resources
do we have that we aren't using, that we haven't thought of, that didn't
seem to apply?"
20 Find the feedback
rich in both positive and negative feedback loops.
The interaction of these loops, one pulling toward stasis, toward the "normal"
situation, the other kicking the situation in some new direction, largely
determine the behavior of any complex adaptive system - such as your organization.
Sketch these feedback loops in your organization.
21 Expect everyone
to do what is best for them
Count on each person
in the organization, and each piece of the organization, in the long run,
to do what seems in their best interest given the information that they
22 Don't penalize
Skip the blame. Punishing
someone because they bet on the wrong horse does not teach them to bet on
the right horse. It teaches them to avoid betting, to stick out no neck
that might be their own. This diminishes their nimbleness. Skip the blame
even if you are right.
23 Make the system
a learning organism
Whatever it does,
whether it makes computer chips, builds dams, raises children, fills out
letters of credit, or plays Stravinsky's "Sacre du Printemps," it must become
a learning organism, or it will become rigid. It must do this top to bottom.
Learning is for everyone. Learning is not peripheral to your organization's
goals, it is central.
24 Let people discover
Ask them to notice
it in detail, and get them to pass it on. The people who work individual
processes, if asked and allowed, will discover it faster than any outsiders,
25 Be at least as
willing to fire leaders as followers
Relatively few of
the problems in an organization are due to "bad apples," gross incompetence,
or venality. Most are due to systemic problems. All "bad apples" should
be removed, if possible, or isolated if they cannot be removed. Low in the
organization, however, "bad apples" have little scope, and affect only a
few customers or subordinates. Higher up, they can affect the whole organization,
destroying people's livelihoods, disrupting the organization's mission,
and interfering with the organization's ability to change.
26 Push decision-making
Put people in charge
of their jobs. Put the power of decisions about each process in the hands
of the people who perform the process. This builds flexibility. Do this
informally, by delegation, or formally, through benchmarking, quality improvement
teams, or any of the several forms of corporate democracy.
27 Push decision-making
export control. Strengthen your links to your customers and suppliers so
that they have real, timely say in your decisions. Do this informally, through
constant conversation, or formally, through contracts and advisory boards.
Strengthen your links to your mate so that you make decisions together truly,
not in form only.
28 Flatten and crosslink
If marketing can only
communicate to manufacturing through headquarters, up and down six layers
of management, marketing will not spend much effort talking to manufacturing,
and will not have the information it needs. Instead, make cross-functional
teams a basic, normal way of doing business.
29 Market share,
not profits - quality, not size
Size and profit grow
from quality and market share. Profit is momentary, a relationship between
costs and market prices that can easily disappear. Size can actually be
a problem if it is not well-integrated. Quality and market share translate
into things that can be very useful when the the winds of change howl down
your valley, things like reputation, name recognition, and the trust of
your customers, suppliers, and investors.
30 Do what you are
Build on your core
competencies. This gives you guidance when you can or must move quickly
to deal with change. If you are a hospital, what business are you in: managing
a large, hotel-like complex with operating rooms and laboratories attached?
Or fostering the health of a population? Nintendo is very clear that it
is in the business of providing a certain type of entertainment, not of
providing a platform for any other type of entertainment. Sears stumbled
when it misunderstood its basic competence in providing reliable, low-cost
retail access, and expanded into financial services, real estate, consumer
credit, and other businesses.
31 Walk a mile in
You spend serious
time looking at your competitors, your subordinates, your suppliers, and
your customers. Flip it over: spend some serious time looking at yourself
from their point of view as well as from the point of view of non-customers,
potential competitors, possible strategic partners. Take their view seriously;
adopt it, at least for a moment. If you don't know their point of view,
find it out. Go to the center of the forces of change that are coming at
you, and look at yourself from there. It will give you unique information.
32 Increase your
Cutting your "cycle
times" - the time it takes your organization to move an idea to market,
or to complete any particular process - gives you both strategic advantages
and greater flexibility. Speed trains your organization in nimbleness.
33 Be prepared to
When change happens,
there comes a time when the bus is on your block. Get on. You cannot ignore
it. If you try, the time and manner in which you join will be picked for
you, in a way that you will least expect. Every change carries something
that you can use. Pick your moment, and go with it.
34 Let go
Whatever ship you
steer, use all your skill and experience. But you and the ship will do better
if you recognize the limits of what you control. There are ports you are
too big to enter. There are storms from which it is better to run.
35 Be mindful
Notice. Trust your
gut. Listen. Feel. It makes a difference
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