When Change Beckons

· Happiness, Human Resources, Leadership


When Change Beckons

NS Rajan

Change is indeed the way of life and being able to transcend disruptions must become a way of life for organizations too. Change may be looming on the horizon due to business transitions  impacted by strategic mergers, joint ventures, divestitures, expansions, new business solutions, infusion of technology, market changes, financial downturns, compelling competitive scenarios, new opportunities or even a new dimension of growth. “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, or the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change” observed Charles Robert Darwin way back in 1859 in his seminal book “Origin of the Species”.Organizations do evolve, and when we can anticipate what may happen tomorrow, we enable the ability to commit ourselves to action today. 

Applying the Occam’s razor, when a business is at cross roads, the imperative is implicit; change the environment or the business itself must attempt to change. Metamorphosis is imminent when disruptions happen. As Shakespeare’s Hamlet contemplated, “Whether it is nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them?” How a business responds by accelerating change, minimizing possible resistance, and achieving organization’s desired outcomes will define its success and determine its future.

After all, the human body  composed of trillions of cells, is itself an evocative metaphor of change, constantly engaged in a dynamic, never ceasing process where cells die, repair, renew, and rebuild.  “It is not success that makes good genes. It is good genes that make success” remarked Richard Dawkins. Humans, unlike other organisms, are blessed with the ability to reason, and in turn can endeavor to predict or envision possibilities and prepare for it. An organization too, like organisms, evolves continuously; its success depends on this evolution and the effectiveness with which it can manage the change that comes with it. Organizations normally endeavor to react and respond when compelled with a crisis at hand. A real and ongoing transformational ability, on the other hand, may serve as a powerful and differentiating core competence.

We must recognize what is inevitable even at an individual level.  “There are seasons, in human affairs, of inward and outward revolution, when new depths seem to be broken up in the soul, when new wants are unfolded in multitudes, and a new and undefined good is thirsted for. There are periods when, to dare, is the highest wisdom” observed William Ellery Channing.  Akin to the first leaves of spring which welcome the new season, we must endeavour to embark on the path that unfolds,  revisit and refresh the organization and the building blocks that constitute it. Transpersonal psychology too highlights the fact that we, as individuals, are suffused with energy owing to our desire to grow and develop ourselves.

Kurt Lewin, considered the  pioneer of  modern social psychology, encapsulated the three critical steps required on the road to transformation, as unfreezing (where you unwind the current state), changing (where you enable and implement) and refreezing (where the new model of business is institutionalized). The levers of enabling sustainable and effective change include appreciating the very need for change, creating a shared vision, continuous and effective communication, addressing the critical culture gaps, carrying stakeholders along, building coalitions, forming a supporting infrastructure, sustaining the urgency for change and facilitating quick wins. The prerequisite, no doubt, is  a committed leadership that ensures organizational congruence and execution focus to the task on hand.

Change that endures at a fundamental level, even when desired to be affected across the entire organization, has to be invigorated at the individual level as it necessitates a behavioral transformation. The late CK Prahlad, a renowned management thinker, had observed that when organizations serve customers, they need to master the power of n=1, where you are able to reach out to one individual customer uniquely, even as you have thousands to cater to. This truly applies to internal customers as well.  Real change is best brought about through transforming one employee at a time, with the focus on the centrality of the individual. As custodian of the intellectual capital in the organization, the HR function may take primacy and play the vital role of a transforming catalyst towards enabling sustainable change. When employees see a resonance between the compelling need to change and how it can impact their lives for the better, it creates a reservoir of energy that fuels the transformation sought. Change beckons us!

(Change Beckons_Titlis: On my way to ascending Titlis, a mountain nestling amidst the Umer Alps of Switzerland, I sighted this sign among the clouds of what looked like a volcano erupting, of shapes that remain unchanged for eons and suddenly transform completely with one eruption. There is the legend in Hawaii that Pele, the volcano goddess of fire, rose from the trembling earth, spewing fiery rivers of lava which on cooling transformed into the heavenly Big Island of Hawaii. Pele evocatively reminds us that even fiery eruptions, and emotional upheavals as well, are always accompanied by significant changes in life which we must learn to embrace.)

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