“The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Sound familiar? Actually, this statement reflects a paradox or polarity that all leaders must embrace at some point when leading change.
As I’ve worked with leaders, I’ve learned that ALL change efforts can be managed better when they are fully understood as part of a polarity. For instance, knowing the benefits and limitations of change and stability can help you better understand people’s points of view and reactions to change efforts. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “People resist change.” While this is often an accurate point of view, it is not a complete one. Often what people are resisting are the downsides of too much change that result in confusion and chaos. Their point of view may also be reinforced by an appreciation of the upsides of stability, which can include continuity and organizational memory. Leaders need to continually manage the benefits of both change and stability, while limiting the negative impacts of each.
This week, I was in a meeting with a colleague, who encouraged our Competency committee to build our efforts from the good work that has already been done over the last few years, rather than starting from scratch. We were tasked with identifying competencies for Chief Human Resource Officers within MnSCU. Her point was a good one. She said that it would demonstrate to our HR colleagues that we valued the work that had gone on before and that we were developing it further. To me, this approach of managing the benefits of change and stability equates to: “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.” There is no need in change efforts to change everything. And it is important for people to know that their previous contributions have been valued.
Along those same lines, I have to credit our Vice Chancellor for Human Resources. When he started his new appointment, he was charged with crafting a new workplan for Human Resources systemwide. Rather than ignoring previous work that had taken place around creating a mission and broad goals, he honored that work and engaged his leadership team to build upon it and rework it where necessary. It gave him instant credibility in his new leadership role and greater support for the new workplan as it evolved.
Have you experienced the change/stability polarity in your workplace? If so, how?
For more information on managing polarities, see Barry Johnson’s book on Polarity Management.
You can also participate in a Managing Polarities seminar through our Talent Management unit.