Sustainable change is elusive. Whether it’s as significant as Brexit or as personal as finding a job you love, the obstacles are surprisingly similar. Perhaps more surprisingly, the solutions are also similar.
Today's organisations are more like ecosystems than machines. So, if you want to make a change work, you are more likely to succeed if you approach your change as a gardener not a mechanic.
In my new book Gardeners Not Mechanics: How to Cultivate Change at Work I describe:
Why popular "change management" recipes have failed to deliver the sustainable value.
The three key characteristics of ecosystems: unpredictability, interdependence, limits of control.
A framework for thinking like a gardeners, entitled The Elements of Gardening.
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A short introduction that introduces the key ideas, including the need to embrace uncertainty not fight it.
Machine or Ecosystem
I begin the chapter with the story of Ron Johnson's tenure as CEO of J.C. Penny, to illustrate the risk of approaching change as mechanic. I go on to present my own research into the failure of change initiatives, and close with a description of how big-bet change came to be the orthodoxy that continues to fail.
I use examples to describe the key characteristics of ecosystems and how they relate to change at work:
Limits of Control
I conclude by setting out the the framework used for part two of the book: The Elements of Gardening.
ELEMENTS of GARDENING - Examples and Exercises
I use the example of the iPhone to show how a Shared Purpose and Shared Vision are the roots of planning. I go on to show you how to clarify whether you have the right purpose and how to create a Shared Vision. I also talk briefly about other aspects of planning in an unpredictable world.
Prepare the Soil
I tell how my failure to Prepare the Soil, for a promotion at work, enabled me to help a coaching client get promoted to the Board of his organisation. I also show how Stakeholder Maps can bring to life the ecosystem into which you want to introduce change.
I describe a big project for which the soil was prepared brilliantly, but later floundered because it wasn't given a good start. I also write about whether to plant a change in light or shade.
I use two examples to illustrate the need to prune, to let in light and air, and ensure healthy growth. The first example is a major change programme and the second is the revitalisation of an overgrown resumé,
I explain that a weed is a a plant in the wrong place, not a bad plant, and describe a time that I found myself to be a weed in someone else's garden. I also use an example to describe commitment weeds.
I describe a project for a Japanese client that I initially tried to direct remotely, from London, until I realised that the relationship needed regular face-to-face watering. In second example, I describe how I nearly lost my job, until I was able to demonstrate that I was on top of the detail. I close with some Buddhist wisdom on watering the seeds of conciousness.
I explain that staking is about two things: supporting and constraining. For support, I describe the psychological stages of change and how to accept or ask for support. For constraints, I talk about the genuine, artificial and design constraints.
Ensure Good Health
There are two main ways of maintaining good health: nourishment and fighting off pests and diseases. For nourishment, I return to the Japanese project and describe how watering wasn't enough to maintain the relationship. Something else was needed. For pests and diseases, I talk about group culture, a fixed mindset and fear, as three common obstacles to change, and how to overcome them.
Enjoy Your harvest
I finish with a short anecdote that illustrates the need to celebrate success in a way that is personal to both the giver and the recipient.