Most organizational change efforts frame things that aren’t working as bugs in the system.
As in, “That’s not working the way we want it to. We’re not doing this the way we’d like to. We just need some help with…”
One of the great insights of the Adaptive Leadership work of Ron Heifitz, Alex Grashow and Marty Linsky (great short summary PDF here) is that systems are optimized to deliver exactly the results that they deliver.
Put another way: those things that are going wrong aren’t bugs, they are features.
This means that things are the way they are because it serves someone’s purpose – most often the purpose of someone with authority. That thing that everyone says they’d like to achieve (that better result, that clearer strategy, that adoption of a new decision-making process) is less valuable than something that’s going on today.
So, any time you see a gap between what people say they value and how they’re behaving, stop and look more closely. Look more closely to figure out what that valuable “something” might be.
If you don’t do this correct diagnosis upfront, you’ll be unnecessarily surprised when:
…the new person hired into that just-created, change agent role fails after 12 months.
…the guy who endlessly complains at the water cooler never seems to quit his job.
…the new mission statements end up as empty words on a page.
…and Facebook, to much fanfare, creates a Oversight Board, funds it with $130 million, and then systematically hides information from and misleads that Board (link to a free WSJ article for readers).
If we want to make change, whether in our own family, our organization, or in a social system, our first step is to remind ourselves: this system is delivering exactly the results it was designed to deliver.
This system—all systems—is not flawed. They are functioning perfectly at delivering the results that they currently deliver.
Once we see this, our next step is to figure out: who is being served by the results that are being achieved today?
And then, finally: how do we tip the scales so that the actors in our system are willing to do something different, something that makes it harder to allow things to continue the way they are today?