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Is there such a thing as a Change State?

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You may be thinking ‘oh no not another article about organisational change’, however, despite all the philosophies and taught approaches, we have missed identifying the key component; that point in time when everything is aligned for change to successfully happen.  

We have lots to choose from when considering how to effectively recognise and manage change. There is the Kurt Lewin change model of three distinct phases: unfreeze, change and refreeze. Kotter's 8-Step Change Model, Kübler-Ross Change Curve: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, and Bridges’ Transition Model of ending, the neutral zone and new beginnings. This is to name just a few.  

However, is there something missing? What if change isn’t just an explained and managed process, and a comms and engagement strategy, but instead also a learnt environment, based on positive experiences and empowerment? This is the space where I have often thought; is there such a thing as a ‘change state’?  

What is the change state? 

The change state, in my opinion, is about having the right environment in place that’s both prepared for the change and has had positive previous experience of change.  

When thinking about environment in this context I mean the eco-system including the people, the technology, the skills and the processes that operating within it who are needed to support or adopt the changes planned.  

The change state exhibits the culture of understanding; the need for change and what the change is, the enthusiasm or at least the acceptance for the change to occur and have reinforced positive experiences. Meanwhile, we also need the skills in place to adapt and evolve to be able to adopt the changes, and the network that is peer-to-peer, self-driven and lead by those impacted and influential to support the change to occur. 

There’s also a very deliberate reason I’ve suggested that this is a ‘state’ rather than a ‘phase.’ This is to reflect that this environment isn’t necessarily linked to a single linear time. Equally, there’s a danger of having a perpetual change state in an organisation where there is constant ambiguity and a paralyse occurs impacting morale and productivity. Having people constantly exposed to change or in readiness for the next change does lead to change fatigue and eventually an unwillingness to continue to be reactive and to accept uncertainty, or an ever-evolving role, team or target.  

What is needed to achieve the change state? 

The work of Bridges, Lewin, Kübler-Ross, Kotter and McKinsey help guide us through how to affect change and how to influence, communicate and plan for change. However, the gap in what’s already available to us, and what I’m seeking to describe here, is the ‘what needs to be true’ for change to either deliberately or organically happen. 

The important thing to reflect is despite your best project, comms and engagement plans a change state is that enabling space that occurs based on having the right environment in place and this will not always conform to a deadline or a milestone. 

To deliver the change state requires the building of trust and skills, through effective engagement and the acceptance of feedback. It must be cultivated, nurtured and maintained throughout the transformation lifecycle, from early design states through to implementation. I don’t think of it as a process to lead people through, like the change curve, or stages and phases, but instead the environment that is created to best enable change to happen.  

Can the change state ever be really achieved?  

This is where I must confess. I have seen the start of a change state being formed, and it feels energised and powerful, however, it’s often not maintained, so I don’t write this from the basis of a perfect project example to share with you. 

I believe it’s possible once positive change is embedded in the culture of the organisation and those partners you’re reliant upon deliver the change. This doesn’t mean behaviourally everyone needs to be in the same acceptance place at the same time — that would be unreasonable to expect so. The change state should be an instinct in how we operate, a space formed where there is a mass of the willing, who are understanding of and ready to adopt change.  

For that reason, creating and enabling a change state to occur feels to me like trying to cook the perfect steak or arriving and leaving a party at the right time — it will come with experience, an awareness and a lot of lessons learnt. 


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