Susan Goldsworthy and Walter McFarland have seen too many organizations take a reactive approach to change. This is the equivalent of deciding to buy an umbrella in the middle of a downpour. The co-authors of Choosing Change: How Leaders and Organizations Drive Results One Person at a Time suggest that the path to creating an organization that is proactive about change begins with a change-focused leader. In a
recent interview with Soundview, Goldsworthy and McFarland discussed.
Soundview: You write in Choosing Change that in today's business world, change readiness seems to most often occur at a certain point. What point is it?
Susan Goldsworthy: What we find in both individual change and organizational change is that it often requires some sort of disruptive event, some sort of major external activity in order to force change. Change becomes reactive as opposed to the individual or the organization being
proactive and embracing change.
Soundview: Tell us about the connection between leaders and organizations as it applies to change.
Walter McFarland: The connection between leaders and organizations came from discussions and life experiences Susan and I have had around why is it so difficult to change a person or an organization. As we played through that a bit, the connection became more and more clear. We
thought that the missing piece, for us, was the lack of leadership. (It is) the lack of leadership in changing yourself, the lack of leadership in changing an organization. The first step in performing change better is leading it better.
We also thought that change unfolds in the individual and the organization in some similar ways but in some different ways as well. In seeking to catch that nuance of how change unfolds in similar and dissimilar ways in organizations, Susan came up with the idea of the Five D framework (Disruption,
Desire, Discipline, Determination and Development).
Soundview: You discuss the need to sharpen the ability to determine which events are within your circle of control and which are within your circle of influence. How do people improve their ability to determine the difference?
Goldsworthy: There are three circles: the circle of control, the circle of influence and the circle of concern. What we find is that what's actually in your circle of control is very little. Most of your life is going to be what's in your circle of influence. Purely in your circle
of control are very basic things like what are you going to wear today. Most activities, especially when they involve other people, are in the circle of influence.
What happens, especially in change and in organizations, is that people get caught up with items that are in their circle of concern. Let's say I get to the airport and my flight is delayed, and I'm very frustrated and angry. Immediately, a whole bunch of chemicals are going to be released into my
system by my brain if I'm angry. My amygdala gets hijacked and causes all adrenaline to be released into my system. This causes me to start acting frustrated and angry to the people around me.
The question becomes is that going to help? This is where the conscious choice has to come in and say, "Can I actually do anything about this situation? Is it in my circle of influence, my circle of control or my circle of concern?" Now clearly, it doesn't matter how upset I am, [the airline] is
not going to bring the plane forward because Susan's upset. It's not going to happen. So it's better to go, "OK, I can't do anything about this. What can I do with the extra couple of hours that I've got? What are my choices?" Therefore, you embrace this choice to look at the benefits that you can
gain from something that doesn't go according to plan. It's this conscious choice of interrupting your thought process and choosing a different path.
Soundview: You write, "Competitive disruptions can foster a false need for urgency." What can be done to combat the need for urgency?
McFarland: If we think about the context of publicly held organizations, they have to make their numbers every 90 days. So when we come along and talk about doing things in a more thoughtful, considered way, the question becomes "How?" There has to be a moment and where the choice
comes in this context is when senior leadership of an organization decides that they're going to think about and practice change differently. They're going to review the ability to do change better as an institution as a source of sustainable competitive advantage. It's better than a competitive
advantage. It's almost impossible for their competing organizations to replicate.
So in the case of a 90-day cycle where there's a competitive disruption and action has to happen, there may be two choices made: One is what are the short-term business-related actions that we have to take to survive? I'm suggesting that simultaneously, while we're doing these things, how do we
cherry pick other longer-term actions that along the way, as we begin to think about change differently, as we begin to get through this first disruption, build increasing capabilities for the next one. Once through it, we don't stop building internal capability for change while waiting for the
next shakeup. We continue building that capability with an idea of elevating the institution over time.