14 do’s and don’ts for mastering change in your organisation

Changes in organisations are inevitable but not a matter of course. Almost 70% of all change efforts fail.

By Jaap Boonstra & Francisco Loscos

An important reason for the failure of changes is that the old way of planned change does not fit with the challenges that organisations face today. Is there an alternative?

Planned change is an approach for organisational change that was developed in the last century. At that time the world was complex but still understandable and planned change helped when executing changes in organisations. Change was like a well-planned trip with the destination and itinerary set in advance. 

In a dynamic world it seems as if everything is changing constantly, with some patterns continuing and showing a certain predictability and others suddenly emerging and prompting change. In this situation planned change is coming to an end.

In a dynamic world planned change is coming to an end

What we need now is an approach to change that is based on a continual process of observation, adaptation and learning. 

Changes resemble a hiking trip through unknown terrain with players knowing and trusting each other so that they can deal with uncertainty and with the unexpected. 

We are very familiar with the language of rational and planned change. We talk about diagnoses, stakeholders, strategies and interventions. 

Language forms our thoughts and guides our actions. To be successful in organisational change in a dynamic environment we need a new language to transform the way we look at organisational change and development. 

The language that gives shape to changes in a dynamic world is based on change as a play of collaborations. The languages for planned change and change as play are contrasted in the overview below. 

14 do’s and don’ts for mastering change in dynamic organisations:

Don'ts (old way of planned change) Do's (change as a collaborative play)
Business environment
Taking into account the driving forces in an organisation’s environment to analyse competitiveness and create competitive advantage.
Playing field
Taking into account a multitude of developments and socio-economic dynamics in the environment of an organisation that stimulate change.
Focus on interest groups who can affect or are affected by the achievements of the organisation’s objectives.
Players on the field
Focus on all groups and individuals who interact with members of the organisation and could contribute to a desirable future.
Problem diagnosis
Diagnose problems in a known situation based on available data and proven organisational assessment instruments.
Play dynamics
Giving meaning to dynamic surroundings and jointly identifying events to discover and change play patterns within the organisation.
Seeing change as a scheduled and organised tour with clear objectives following a previously planned and fixed route.
Seeing change as an adventure in which the participants collaborate together, gain new experiences and learn from these.
Change strategy
Executing a planned and rational change strategy steered by top management and related to problem diagnosis and implementation of solutions.
Play concepts
Combining different change strategies that help the various players to contribute to innovation and improve their own work context.
Change projects
Focusing on a project or programme that targets clear solutions and is steered on data, finance, people, resources and results.
Playing together
Focusing on emerging change based on interactions during the change process and resulting in collective experiences and learning.
Planning & control
Managing ongoing activities based on clear timelines, strict planning and critical deadlines, with systems and procedures for progress checking.
Rhythm & momentum
Searching for the right rhythm and the best moment to leverage positive forces and keep going in the change process.
Implementing actions of change managers to steer a change process in a desired direction and to overcome resistance.
Play formats
Outlining a vision and the way to realise that vision together with those involved, despite uncertainties and chaos.
Intervention plan
Putting planned interventions together in a consistent change and intervention plan used by managers and change agents.
Interacting and learning
Gaining experience and learning from it through interaction so that the quality of play of all participants is improved.
Adopting political or natural psychological defensive responses to change, which must be recognised and eliminated.
Expressing the involvement and concern of players taking part in change, which deserves to be given serious attention.
Consultants are seen as the experts who help organisations to solve issues, create value, maximise growth and improve business performance.
Appreciating fellow players with a collaborative mindset who offer their contribution to achieving a better change process with positive results.
How to change
Training of people on how to change, delivered by professionals who are experts in teaching and supporting the change to achieve the intended outcomes.
Living the change
Sharing experiences acquired by all the players in change who see progress and want to reflect and learn from this to improve themselves.
Focusing only on specific, measurable, acceptable, realistic and time bound (SMART) objectives that have to be achieved.
The play experience
Focusing on the impact of organisations that are visible to the players and the possibilities to learn from collective experience to improve continuously.
Homo economicus
Perceiving humans as economic beings, using rational arguments and only interested in change if they can make a profit from it.
Homo ludens
Perceiving humans as players who enjoy the experience, get satisfaction from playing with others, learn from it and are happy that way.

Looking at change through the eyes of play provides overview, flexibility, optimism, involvement and plurality in all respects.

When you reflect on your experiences as a human being and change leader, what would be your language? Are you willing to change yourself and are you ready to play?

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