Start With The Soil:Four Fresh Strategies For Successful Change

Take a quick survey of the people in your organization about the topics they would rather NOT talk about, and I would imagine one of them is change. They may have dutifully followed the steps outlined by the organization, only to experience a negative result when the change process was over. Others may have felt forced to change, led to believe the current contributions they were making were completely unacceptable. Still others may have felt overwhelmed by the thought of change when they were already working at capacity with their time and energy.

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A fresh approach is needed for organizations of the 21st century. As Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline and The Dance of Change said in 1999, “We need leaders who look at change as growing something instead of just fixing something.” It’s time for a growth perspective on change.

This growth approach to change begins with the idea of Planting. Before planting anything, an analysis of the current environmental conditions must be made. Once factors like nutrients, soil, temperature, and sunlight are optimized, the plant can begin to grow. In the same way, change initiatives need resources in place BEFORE the change can expect to gain traction and begin moving from idea to reality.

As a plant begins to grow and take root, Cultivation is required. This means constant attention to the changing growth requirements and surrounding environment. Too often, organizations may plant a change, but fail to nurture its growth with complementary changes in three key areas: Priorities, Processes, and People. Fail to cultivate in a garden and what do you soon get? Weeds! These weeds steal precious resources from the plant. Weeds of vague expectations, unclear priorities, and continuing with the status quo serve as a similar threat to the plant of change.

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We also know that change initiatives are not done in isolation, but in connection with other work processes and systems. If the change is to succeed, a reallocation of resources is required to better foster healthy growth of the change. In the horticultural word this is called Pruning: Cutting back to grow forward. The lean organizations of today rarely have additional capital or human resources to spare, so they must be utilized where they can be of greatest return on investment to the organization. Pruning is not only required at the organizational level. Each employee engaged with the change must ask themselves where they may need to prune attitudes or actions that may be limiting the growth of the change.

Lastly, when involved in a change initiative, organizations need to more fully leverage the motivation that comes from celebrating small productive results. These Harvest moments give employees and leaders within an organization the chance to realize that the change process is moving in a positive direction, and that bigger and more substantial results will surely follow. Too often, organizations only want to recognize the final results from a change initiative. This “gap” created between planting and harvest lowers the motivation of individuals to continue to work through the change process.

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The strength of this new approach to organizational change can be seen at least two ways. First, the simplicity of the growth process can readily be embraced by individuals at all levels of an organization. Second, this process gives individuals a quick and effective way to manage the rate of growth of a change. With the ever-increasing need to be ready to change systems, processes, and people more quickly, those who focus on change as “fixing a problem” would seem doomed to fail. It’s time to get growing… and get better results from change initiatives.

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