Change is Hard and There is Hope
Change is fascinating. We know it as the one thing that will outlive us all and yet when it manifests in our lives it can be overwhelming, oft seen as an unsettling threat to the comfort of our stasis. I suppose that is the point though. It is change that moves us along through time.
Change is impactful for all systems both natural and contrived, with much of the latter being driven by organizations. These businesses drive our economy forward and therein have a massive impact on our daily lives. At their core, organizations function to support various human needs.
In the past decades, we have seen that technology is accelerating humanity forward at unprecedented speeds. The globalization of markets and further urbanization of communities has continued to explode (West, 2017). This rapid pace is compelling organizations towards deep innovations that have fundamentally changed the way we engage with our world. A quick glance through any app store will show the myriad of novel choices to participate in this growing innovation, from healthcare and fitness to gaming and mortgages.
During the onset of the pandemic last year, organizations (and the people therein) faced a wave of overnight change. Leaders had to rapidly make decisions on how to fulfill their financial responsibilities and commitments to their clients, while also safeguarding their employees.
This was brought forward faster than ever by the global crisis, but it isn’t new. Leaders make decisions like this every day. The choice to acquire another organization, the choice to sell off an underperforming part of a business, the choice to expand into new markets, develop new products, reorganize a team, the list is infinite. Decisions like these are the catalysts to change.
At the heart of both change and expansion there is one important truth, there are individuals behind this quickening. Individuals need systems that support them on a human level. Maslow (1958) organized these into his concept of the “hierarchy of needs”, suggesting that until those baser needs are met, we cannot fulfill our highest potential. Research has shown that the rapid pace of technology has significant impacts on our human systems. From social media’s links to self-esteem and depression (Lin & Sidani, et. al, 2016), to the way our brains process the rapid intake of information (Marois & Ivanoff, 2005), there is an inextricable link between technology and our well-being.
So how can organizations be more deliberate in managing change and supporting individuals? By adhering to some of the organization development (OD) basics. You can define OD in a multitude of ways but at its core it centers around intentional effort (Jones & Brazzel, 2014). It is an art deeply rooted in applied behavioral sciences, driven forward by individual practitioners well versed in business environments and markets.
OD seeks to shift paradigms around change, approaching it as an opportunity for progress, innovation, and transformation. OD challenges individuals to learn differently, think differently, and be more effective. Here are a few key tenants to consider:
Empower your people through capacity building and development. Give them access to tools & knowledge that strengthens their judgement and critical thinking.
This is about visibility. Expand the decision-making body. Consider that anyone affected by the decision should be given a platform to be heard and their suggestions or ideas be integrated. Every time.
Those closest to problems and most tied to outcomes will provide the strongest insights. Behaviors and outcomes cannot be forced but must emerge naturally through facilitation of environments that encourage shared understanding, critical thinking, and trust.
Observe from the highest vantage point, what do you see? The solutions you drive will be better aligned to withstand the trials of time when you consider the widest view. Look beyond the self, the group, the organization to capture the industry, the markets, the global picture — then trace it back down to the individual.
These guiding principles are the heart of organization development, and they provide a snippet into how to improve your organization and better support your human capital (Jones & Brazzel, 2014). Think of change not as a looming specter, but as a beckoning to transformation. With focused effort, we can ease the tensions that surround change and with organization development you may find that after all, there is hope.
West, G. B. (2017). Scale: the universal laws of growth, innovation, sustainability, and the pace of life in organisms, cities, economies, and companies. Penguin.
Jones, B. B., & Brazzel, M. (2014). The NTL handbook of organization development and change:principles, practices, and perspectives. Wiley.
Lin, L. Y., Sidani, J. E., Shensa, A., Radovic, A., Miller, E., Colditz, J. B., … & Primack, B. A. (2016). Association between social media use and depression among US young adults. Depression and anxiety, 33(4), 323–331.
Marois, R., & Ivanoff, J. (2005). Capacity limits of information processing in the brain. Trends in cognitive sciences, 9(6), 296–305.