Change Management and Saving the World!
The other day after a speaking engagement, I was chatting with someone from the audience who said that their career goal was to “save the world”. Their response was so straightforward and without a hint of irony that I was both surprised and inspired. The audience was full of people who worked with sustainability at companies in the area and I am sure they were all interested in contributing to a better world, but this person radiated a real passion about making change happen!
I think what inspired me most was that this person expressed a disarming honesty. They weren’t trying to impress anyone or sound important. The had simply decided to make saving the planet their personal mission and they weren’t embarrassed to share that with others. For many years, my own motto has been “to leave the world a little better than it was when I got here”. I have always believed that if each of the 7.6 billion people on earth strove to leave the world a little better we could conquer every challenge. In some way both of us shared a common goal of making the world better but I realized that my incremental approach just wasn’t good enough in the current situation. The difference between our perspectives was that while I was focused on continual incremental improvement, this person understood that this is not the time for incremental improvement. Now is the time for real and significant change. The challenges of climate change and population growth are overwhelming for our species as well as the entire planet.
I spend most of my working time helping people and organizations succeed with change initiatives. One thing I have learned is that timing is crucial for success with change. In most instances I recommend organizations to strive for continual incremental improvement and avoid change initiatives as far as possible. Change is demanding and difficult at the best of times. Before thinking about making significant changes, everyone involved needs to be convinced of the absolute necessity of the change. The first prerequisite of change is a true sense of urgency. The entire organization needs to be convinced that something needs to be done to avoid possible negative outcomes.
Following is a simple model I use to remind myself and others to evaluate and understand if the climate is ripe for change in an organization.
Prerequisites for Change
Threat + Vision = Change
Vision – Threat = Incremental improvement
Threat – Vision = Chaos
If the people affected by the change perceive the threat and are attracted to the vision then the climate is ripe for change.
If the people are attracted to the vision but do not perceive a threat then you should choose to work with continual, incremental improvement until the threat is clearer.
If the people perceive a clear threat but have no vision of a better state than the current state, chaos will arise. Remember this is not necessarily bad, people are never more open to change than in a chaotic situation if they can find a vision they accept.
If we apply this thinking to climate change we will understand that people who do not perceive the threat of climate change will not be motivated to change their own behavior. People who perceive the threat of climate change but who don’t see any vision for solving climate change may be motivated to seek a vision but they may also simply become apathetic. People who see a vision for a brighter future but who don’t perceive a threat will be motivated to making incremental improvements to the status quo but will not be motivated make significant changes to the status quo.
This person from the audience reminded me that sometimes the sense of urgency is not urgent enough to justify a change initiative. But sometimes the sense of urgency is so apparent that change is the only alternative.
And sometimes the one who is supposed to inspire the audience is the one who gets inspired most. From now on my motto is going to be “Save the World!”.