Dimensions of Change


The work I do with organizations is at its core Change Management.  Whether a project is a planning retreat or process, a large initiative or systems and team coaching my role is to support an organization in moving from where it is now, to where it wants to be next.

Change Management in 3D

Capacity building, executive transition, organizational development and leadership development are inherently processes of change. Change management is the bridge between theory and practice; it is the messy and complicated aspect of helping organizations, and the people in them, to make the changes needed to strengthen their capacity to achieve their mission.

Organizational change is made possible by understanding the connections between the change the organization wants to realize, the social change the organization is working towards, and change at the individual level. Whether the end goal is transformation, realignment, managed growth or restructuring, organizational change happens within a social context that is specific to the institution and its activities, and is dependent on the members of the organization changing as well.

Organizational Change – Social Change: the work an organization does influences the process of its change. Providing direct services, advocating for policy change, organizing communities and other strategies for achieving a mission each happen within a social context that impacts the very ethos of the organization.

Example: an organization working to end domestic violence. Core to its work is interrupting the abuse of power in relationships, so any change initiative must also embrace a sensitivity as to how the organization experiences (and manages) its power internally and externally.  The dynamics of power will show up in a change process, in ways big and small. A critical role for consultants is to help organizations recognize and manage the subtle dynamics specific to it, which are amplified in any change initiative.

Organizational Change – Individual Change: we all know that people are the heart, soul and engine of a non-profit organization. The success of a nonprofit is tied to how well the organization makes it possible for people to contribute their talents and commitments, coupled with how the individuals involved perform their work. People are complex, and change pushes up against their sense of self in ways that are often at play just under the surface of the change process. It is not uncommon in an organizational change initiative for an individual, team or small group of people to exhibit either active or passive resistance. Managing this resistance is one of the most profound learning opportunities in any change process; it can expose flaws in the goals or plans, and it may also provide an opening for supporting individuals working through change.

Example: A direct service organization seeks to eliminate a declining program to increase its investment in a growing program.  One front-line staff member gets the whole team riled up about what a bad idea this is. Engaging with the individual reveals two things – they need support working through feeling powerless about no longer responding to a need and there would be a benefit to involving them in the planning and delivery of cross training with an allied provider. Addressing both of these needs strengthens the change process and supports the growth of the individual.  A consultant maintaining a non-judgmental and compassionate stance when people are acting out and expressing unhelpful behaviors during the change process is a key to success.

Individual Change – Social Change: Each person is unique, with talents to contribute and weaknesses to grapple with, the vast majority of which are the result of how we each have experienced living in the world. Whether our burden is ignorance bred through privilege or pain imposed through marginalization, what we share is a journey to be the best people we can be. How we manage change within organizations can contribute volumes to the social change we actively seek. There is no magic formula for holding the right balance between supporting individuals and moving the organization – yet paying close attention and always seeking that balance is, in itself, an act of social change. Being effective in supporting people in stepping into their power and leadership is a key contribution of a consultant involved in any organizational change process.

Example: Leadership or senior management teams often play a critical role in stewarding change within their organization.  Each member of this team has different experiences with being in a role that includes formal power; in social justice organizations it is not unusual for new Executive Directors to be uncomfortable with exercising formal power.  As consultants, supporting individuals in the process of using their formal and informal power effectively and appropriately has impact that will live far beyond the process currently at hand.

Levers of Change

Supporting organizations through change is complex.  The options for navigating these complexities, however, are quite simple:

Introduce – Interrupt – Reinforce

Ultimately what we have to work with are beliefs, behaviors, and systems; as consultants, we have three levers to choose from.

Introduce – we can introduce new beliefs, behaviors and systems for individuals and groups to consider.  Consultants provide tools, experience and insights for clients to adopt or try on.

Interrupt – we can interrupt beliefs, behaviors and systems that are not serving the individuals and groups.  Consultants help reframe beliefs, provide strategies for changing behaviors that are not aligned with values or vision and identify and redesign systems that are not working.

Reinforce – adopting new beliefs, behaviors and systems takes practice and discipline. Consultants should take a systems approach, looking for patterns and connections to encourage strong beliefs, behaviors and systems that are aligned with the new vision of the organization.

Additional Resources:

I have intentionally aligned Change Management in 3D with the work of Robert Gass and the Social Transformation Project; the Wheel of Change is a very clear and well developed framework that many leaders, activists and consultants are familiar with through Rockwood.  See: Social Transformation Project – Wheel of Change

I have created a Prezi to illustrate this framework, please take a look below, or take a closer look here:

For best viewing use full screen by clicking the far right icon on the Prezi menu bar.