When I teach my MBA class in Organizational Behavior, the last article I cover on the last day of class is “Changing Others Through Changing Ourselves: The Transformation of Human Systems” by Robert Quinn, Gretchen Sprieitzer, and Matthew Brown. After a semester of encouraging students to practice exemplary followership and leadership, the task of going back to your organization and making a real difference can seem overwhelming. This article offers difficult but solid advice and hope:
Real adaptive change can only be achieved by mobilizing people to make painful adjustments in their attitudes, work habits, and lives. In adaptive change, people must step outside known patterns of behavior – they must surrender their present selves and put themselves in jeopardy by becoming part of an emergent system. This process usually requires the 1) surrender of personal control, 2) the toleration of uncertainty, and 3) the development of a new culture at the collective level and 4) a new self at the individual level.
How can an individual engage others in a change effort when doing so requires them to make painful adjustments and put themselves in jeopardy? The answer is that changing others requires changing ourselves first. We attract others to change when we first change ourselves. (pp. 147-148).
Quinn et al. call their approach to adaptive change Advanced Change Theory (ACT). It is a systematic approach to change that has the following principles:
- Create an emergent system
- Recognizes hypocrisy and patterns of self-deception
- Personal change through value clarification and alignment of behaviors
- Frees oneself from the system of external sanctions
- Develops a vision for the common good
- Takes action to the edge of chaos
- Maintains reverence for others involved in change
- Inspires others to enact their best selves
- Models counterintuitive, paradoxical behavior
- Changes self and system
I hope to address all of these principles in the coming days and weeks. My video today addresses the first principle – Create an emergent system. Emergence is a property of self-organizing systems, so you can see their approach is firmly rooted in the science of complexity and chaos theory. Your organization needs to change to survive, and while that change can have direction, the end state is neither completely predictable nor controllable.
Creating an emergent system is the first step the leader takes to align with a vision for the common good. It requires a shift toward purposeful behavior and away from self-interested behavior. To create a purposeful, emergent organization, the leader must build a community where individuals can learn, adapt and grow. The hallmarks of this community are honest dialogue, intense commitment, and voluntary contribution. The leader strives for inclusion, openness, and a reduction of hierarchy. Followers have to be willing to make a significant personal sacrifice that will result in their own transformation.
You are not going to find a formula or 10-step prescription in this approach. It’s abstract, which means you are going to have figure out for yourself how to apply it and deal with the mess of learning by doing. But the result will be more effective for you and your organization than some spoon-fed approach to change.