Changing organisations from the inside out

Lloyds of London Image Portfolio Feb2011Most organisational change projects fail to deliver the desired outcomes. Many transformations fall short of their goals. A couple of years after they have ‘delivered’ it is often found that many of the old cultural values, behaviours and hierarchies have reasserted themselves.

The reason for this is that these projects are applied to the mechanics of how the business or organisation works. It’s all about org charts and processes, work flows and systems. Very little is done to help the people change, so the ‘transformation’ is done to them and they don’t actually go through a transformation themselves. Once the new landscape has settled down they go back to doing what they did before.

People are amazingly creative and inventive and this energy is unleashed in resisting the change by subverting and bypassing the new structure. They quickly figure out how to change their language and behaviour so they appear to be working in the new way, whilst they actually carry on doing what they’ve always done. Then they turn their brains off again and carry on as usual until the ‘transformation’.

When I coach people, the approach is very much to work from the inside out. Change doesn’t happen because of what you do externally. You can force yourself to make it look like you are different but your finite willpower will run out and you won’t be able to keep up the pretence anymore. So firstly we work on the internal aspects of awareness, choice and trust in self. The visible aspects of performance and behaviour follow on afterwards. Change internally and you will naturally change externally. It becomes effortless and lasting.

So how about approaching organisational change from the inside out? How about helping the people go through a transformation first, and let them take the organisation through the change that they see is necessary? That would be a transformation that would be lasting and robust because the people would be completely aligned with it.

Here’s the science bit..

This is, in fact, part of what Frederick Laloux suggests in his book “Reinventing Organisations”. Taking inspiration from Integral Theory, he uses the following model to explain how organisational culture is created.

Laloux's Quadrant FactorsCulture is the outcome of People’s beliefs and mindsets, People’s behaviour, and Organisational systems. Clearly, if you work with the people to change their beliefs & mindsets and their behaviours, you are a long way towards effecting Organisational change.

Laloux's Quadrant EffectHowever, most change programmes ignore these aspects and focus almost exclusively on Organizational Systems (and sometimes try to shift Organisational Culture by managerial mandate, which is never going to work).

It’s hardly surprising many change and transformation projects fail when they ignore two-thirds of the factors that lead to change.