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Want to change anything? The last thing you need is vision

Want to change anything? The last thing you need is vision

by Moyra Mackie on January 31, 2015

It’s estimated that around 75% of change initiatives fail. A failed or interrupted change program is really just disruption. Disruption is costly –  to the bottom line and to the emotions, energy and engagement of all involved.

Change fails because we start in the wrong place

Most change programs start with a reaction – to the market, to what is happening “out there.” Senior management or HR departments see other companies doing this or that and decide, “that’s where we need to be. Let’s get a plan together, let’s add some targets – some carrots and sticks – and let’s get our leaders to sell this vision.”

Wikipedia summarises the literature more formally:

“Regardless of the many types of organizational change, the critical aspect is a company’s ability to win the buy-in of their organization’s employees on the change. Effectively managing organizational change is a four-step process:
1. Recognizing the changes in the broader business environment
2. Developing the necessary adjustments for their company’s needs
3. Training their employees on the appropriate changes
4. Winning the support of the employees with the persuasiveness of the appropriate adjustments”

Change fails because it’s reactive and focused on selling a vision

Vision is incredibly motivating in getting us to move from where we are to where we really want or need to be. But you need to know EXACTLY WHERE you are starting from.

Imagine finding yourself in a strange city where you can’t speak the language, or read the signs, and you’re hungry. You find a wonderful restaurant on Google maps but GPS can’t locate where you are. Knowing where you want to be, and being highly motivated to get there, is not going to help.

For lasting change you have to start with the present – where you are right now

Organisational change is no different to  individual change – it requires honesty, courage and self-awareness. The more complex the organisation and system, the more important it is to differentiate between where you would like to think you are starting from and the reality.

Leaders need to start the self-awareness process

Instead of binoculars or a crystal ball, leaders need to hold a mirror up – first to themselves and then to the organisation.

There is an increasing amount of research to show that:

“Successful leadership depends on the quality of attention and intention that the leader brings to any situation. Two leaders in the same circumstances doing the same thing can bring about completely different outcomes, depending on the inner place from which each operates.” ~ Otto Scharmer, Theory U: Leading from the future as it emerges

The inner place? I can see some leaders asking what on earth that means

As Otto Scharmer points out, the inner place in leaders remains largely mysterious, denied or avoided. This contrasts with the sports world where research on mind set, imagination, emotional state and preparation has led to practices designed to enhance athletic performance from the “inside out.”

Organisations put very little focus on the executive’s inner game.

There is no consistent expectation that managers should apply specific techniques to enhance their performance from the inside out. As Scharmer says:

“business leaders operate largely without these techniques—or indeed, without any awareness that such techniques exist.”

It’s lack of insight, not lack of vision that prevents real change

Albert Einstein famously declared that problems can’t be resolved by the same level of consciousness that created them.

If we address our 21st-century challenges with reactive mind sets, that mostly reflect the realities of the 19th and 20th centuries, we will increase frustration, cynicism, and anger.

Paul Watzlawick described the shift in mind set as second order change. Instead of traditional change, which involves trying harder, accompanied by a combination of sanctions and rewards, second order change is non-linear with the aim of behaving, thinking and feeling differently.

The difference between trying hard and really changing

The difference between trying hard and really changing

This type of change requires greater creativity and tolerance of ambiguity – at the beginning the solution is NOT known. There is no vision to sell.

How do we achieve second order change?

Transformation requires patient attention to what is. Scharmer’s process, known as Theory U, demands an open heart, open mind and open will.

In practice this means that everyone involved in the change needs to avoid jumping to an obvious solution. They need to go deeper and focus on the quality of relationships and the quality of communication. Leaders of change need to:

Sustainable change

Sustainable change

Action and change emerge from clarity and acceptance

Theory U combines a mindful, reflective, emotionally intelligent model to move down the U and a methodology of prototyping and learning, common to the creative industries, to move up the U towards transformational and sustainable change.

This model requires emotional courage, as seeing things clearly demands an end to denial, an end to mythologizing and an end to blaming and reacting.

If you want to change – anything – you need insight not vision


Moyra Mackie

Moyra Mackie helps leaders and teams to work with courage, compassion and creativity. She is an executive coach and consultant and the founder of Mackie Consulting.

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