Real Idea Shop
Real Idea Shop
Big Ideas to Actionable Insights

Can you plan change

01.02.21 09:42 AM Comment(s) By Nick Bird

or does it need to be nurtured

Is change always more effective when it is carefully planned and implemented, or is it more successful when initiatives from the stakeholders themselves are selected and nurtured. You would certainly assume that emergent change would be easier to implement  when it is crafted by those most affected by it. But this depends on whether the organisation sees itself as a machine that seeks to avoid deviations, or as an organism in a fight for survival. That will determine how change is managed and whether emergence is to be welcomed or discouraged. Whether emergence or planning is required, depends of course on the type of change that is needed to solve the business issues faced by the organisation. If addressing these require cultural change and there is time for emergence then careful selection and nurturing could be the answer.


We have covered each of these areas in the last five blogs where we invited you to think about the following questions - by clicking on them you will be taken back to each:


To round this first series of blogs off, in this one, I am going to ask you to think about this sixth and final question which is; how will you decide whether to plan change, or encourage and nurture its emergence?  

You can see the whole series with added resources and materials by signing up as member - top right - to get the link to the Real Idea Knowledge Base

What type of emergence possible

The idea of emergence comes from the organisation thinking of itself as being made up of people and their relationships, and seriously thinking about the experiences they have. From this the organisation as complex system that is co created is uncovered. 


But as Ralph Stacey explained, we need to think about this pradoxically. You could think about emergence in this sense as being like gardening, where you nurture the plants you want and control the weeds you don't. In other words co creation needs to be given direction and aligned with the strategy of the organisation. 

This raises a number of questions you can ask about whether co creation and emergence is going to be the right approach for this change:


  • How can you plan to create an environment where beneficial emergence is possible?
  • How will you discover the emergent ideas that can co create new solutions to the business problem that you are trying to address?
  • Is there time for you to do this or do we just need to get change done?

How will you know what change to nurture

This approach of emergence and nurturing fits best with an understanding of the organisation as an organism, which is in a dynamic interconnected relationship with its environment. That's because in these organisations, change is a way of life in contrast to the more traditional mechanistic approach, of the precisely engineered machine which works in relatively stable ones.


This dynamic environment means that there isn't one right change but a number of alternatives, from which the best at the moment is selected. These are then nurtured by analysing the interconnectedness of the change with feedback loops that tend to nurture or work against it (analogous to a tree which is nurtured by the soil but limited by the increasing strength it needs to maintain its height).

The outcomes that are expected of the change also depend on the interaction of the business with a dynamic environment, which means that these may change over time. Can this be reconciled with a formal methodology? Such a flexible dynamic methodology is found in Agile project management which is used most widely in software businesses where fast paced change is the norm.


In these companies a number of questions arise:

  • From the alternative ways that change could happen what are the best ways given the environmental conditions?
  • How will you scan the environment to know what the best way is, at any point in time?
  • How will you identify and work with positive generative and negative balancing feedback from the system, to nurture this best way?
  • How do environmental factors impact on how you think about the goals of the change you are trying to make?

How do you develop a workable plan in a complex dynamic organisation


If you think of the organisation as a complex system which is fully connected to a dynamic environment then it is clear that while you will have some structure which enables change to happen and avoid entropy and chaos, you can't fully predict what outcomes you will need over the lifetime of the program, or the best way to achieve them.


The answer is to give broad direction, and provide an right empowering environment so that the people who know how things really happen in this dynamic environment day to day, can work together and co create workable solutions that deliver the outcomes you need to achieve, at the time you need them to achieve the "good enough" vision of the change you want to see.


There is a name for this sort of project planning. It called Agile and is used primarily in fast moving dynamic environments like software, but is escaping to other fields such as Change Management. We will be offering an entire knowledge base on Agile based on the Agile Consortium model called MDIS (so sign up as a member to get this link). However here are some of the questions that you might ask yourself if you plan to use this approach to change:


  • What "good enough" vision is specific enough to provide a general direction for your project but broad enough for this to be achieved in a dynamic setting?
  • How can you create the minimum detail in your specification a late as possible, so that it can allow ideas to deliver it to emerge?
  • How will you identify and bring together the right people who can collaborate on co creating the right solutions
  • How can you provide the project environment to empower people to ask the questions every one is thinking about but no one is asking
  • How do you find out what is really going on rather than what the business says is going on?

                            Another idea from the Real Idea Shop

This is the last of the blogs around the question "How can I bring about successful change in my organisation?". Sign up as a member for free (top right) so that we can send you links where you can access more resources, webinars and more from our knowledge base. The next question we will be thinking about is "What sort of change do we need?"

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