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Why change is a bad word?

I’ve noticed a trend at different events I’ve gone to that I’d like to share with you as readers. I get asked the typical question, “what do you do?”, and I mention that I’m an organisation development professional. I usually get asked what that means.

I’ve noticed a trend at different events I’ve gone to that I’d like to share with you as readers. I get asked the typical question, “what do you do?”, and I mention that I’m an organisation development professional. I usually get asked what that means.

I talk about a few things: I talk about people centred change, helping organisations change with the long term in mind and employee engagement. However, it seems that when I mention the word change, the next statement is something like, “oh so you restructure and work with redundancies”. I always look half surprised that that is the first thing that crosses their mind. After a few months, I kept mentioning change but much more like a social experiment, and 95% of the time I get the same response.

This got me thinking, it is obvious OD is related to change, and change is becoming psychologically attached to job losses and the chaos of restructures, rather than actual design thinking or long term development of organisations. Change… has become a bad word for most people. This makes an immediate resistance to a discipline that can actually really benefit organisations to grow, develop and evolve.

I thought long and hard about this month’s blog post as it is about a topic that is close to my heart. I’ve gotten to work in this field and see other greats who work on this field. There is a clear need for change to develop a new psychological reference if businesses are to not just survive day to day, but also flourish and guarantee their long term success.

So what is OD and what are the principles behind it?

OD was born after the war, and brought together various social sciences such as economics, psychology, group dynamics, international relations, business strategy and sociology. These form the backbone of the discipline and so do the values they hold collectively which are to be used in the application of OD:

1. Humanistic
2. Inclusive
3. Long term
4. Integrity
5. Holistic

We mainly refer to OD as using a whole systems approach to long term planned change. This applies both to proactive or reactive change (where the environment is forcing an organisation to transform). By whole system we refer to two of the values listed. One aspect is holistic, which means looking at the organisation as a whole. So for example if you are looking at improving something within your distribution team, you focus on that team and in the impact the changes will have the rest of the company and community. The other aspect is involving all the organisation especially those who are affected by the change from the start. This is where a culture of employee engagement comes to play as it ensures success in the change effort and innovative ideas within implementation.

So why is it that it has developed such a bad reputation?

To be honest, I think it has been organisations not knowing how best to drive change, being way too reactive or forgetting to be inclusive in the process. Therefore experience of change trumps the possibility of a positive correlation. It doesn’t help that our actual composition as human beings is naturally resistant to change and being outside our comfort zone. Although, the other biological lense is that we have evolved which is change itself… but most of the time out of new necessity rather than searching for improvements within ourselves. So this coupled with change that hasn’t been greatly led causes organisational chnGe to have this bad reputation.

What can we do?

1. As leaders we need to work strategically and find new ways to engage staff in continuous evolution for our organisations.

2. Stop looking at change as a programme and more as a constant, focus on the positives such as innovations, and refuse to “move boxes” unless a design shift is actually necessary.

3. Make sure to increase communications and be genuine.

4. Make change fun and exciting! Think gamification, unconferences, hackathons or even using digital tools to help.

5. Be clear on your purpose for change and allow yourself to fail forward.

I hope this blog post has been useful for everyone. If you are interested in learning more about OD, whole systems transformation or how to ensure employee engagement within your change programmes please visit or come along to our Transforming Change Workshops in October.

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