Changing how we define and respond to change

It’s long been said that ‘Change is a process’ – we want to move from our current state through a transition state to get to a future state. Inherent in this view of change are some very optimistic assumptions that:

  • we have a high level of control over the change process
  • there is a level of disclosure and visibility to the change process – meaning we can see what is coming, or, at worst, all will be appropriately revealed in due course, and
  • ‘the change’ is a thing coming in the future that can be analysed, assessed and planned for.

But what if change was an event and the response to that change was the process?

In our experience, we have almost never come across a change that has presented as an orderly definable process, embedded neatly with the presuppositions and assumptions described above. It has almost always fallen into one or more of five categories.

Change has emerged unexpectedly or launched itself more dramatically as either an opportunity, a problem, a threat, an innovation or an obstacle (OPTIO™). If it’s not one of these, then, in all reality, it’s just a tough day at the office managing some complex business as usual (BAU). In that case, relax and get on with getting stuff done.

If it is one of the elements of OPTIO™, you’ll know, because it’ll impact on one or more of your five core organisational domains of BAU – making BAU impossible and disrupting the normal organisational flow. The five domains of normal operation are all matters pertaining to leading and operating your organisation’s culture, clients, people, strategy or operations.

When an OPTIO™ like event impacts any or all of these, there’s no such thing as BAU (unless you’re in denial – and more than a few business leaders are in just that space). That event impacts on and shifts the organisation. That event is the change. You’ll find you cannot go back to the old normal.

Typically, we see organisational leaders trying to maintain the normal flow of things despite the event. It’s the ‘stay very still and the bear won’t eat me’ strategy, where on the whole, the bear actually does eat you!

As you’re being consumed by the impact of the (bearish) change event, the questions will start:

  • How are we going to survive this?
  • How can we afford this?
  • How can we get out of this?

We find that these are all the wrong questions as these all assume a reactive and defensive posture.

What if the question was: How do we respond in a way where we don’t just survive but where we triumph and flourish despite the ‘bear’ event? After all, no one controls the wildness and unpredictability of events, just the quality of the response.

When your people are at their best, when they flourish, you’ll get your outcomes, KPIs, measures and benefits – be that financial or otherwise. However, the quality of your response to the change event will determine whether your people flourish or not.

Now, we all know that businesses function across three distinct avenues of work that have been historically described as the Strategic, the Tactical and the Practical domains. Flourishing involves responding across these three domains, where no domain is optional or replaceable.

This is the simple acknowledgement that a genuine deep response to a change event isn’t just a matter of tweaking processes and procedures and pretending the bear wants to eat somewhere else. It is actually getting across all three domains: leadership direction, middle management process and procedure, and practical delivery at the coal face of your organisational engagements. A deep response across these three domains takes both change leadership and change management, so that your people flourish.

Sounds simple? It isn’t! We’re simply stating the fact that normal leadership in the face of disruptive change events is insufficient. You need the distinct disciplines involved in Change Leadership to drive a comprehensive Change Management response that is focused, above everything else, on human flourishing.

That all adds up to one clear fact: Creating a robust change response through effective change leadership and dynamic change management is an indispensable element in setting the stage for ultimate success. These two disciplines in tandem are now, more than ever, a must for all organisations.


We’re working on different ideas, telling a different story, and getting radically different outcomes than what others usually see.