From Plan to Framework for Change
Leadership Coach, Front of Room Leader and Systemic Change Guide
4 Ps of Change Purpose Picture Plan Part

Connor’s recent reflections on the dynamics between management and workforce in the context of change struck a chord. This week we want to dive a bit deeper into what PLAN could look like in a complex change process where management cannot lead with solutions, but needs to cultivate the workforce’s ability to co-create the way forward.

To recap his post, managers struggle with leading in complex environments, because being the “(wo)man with the plan” is part of their identity and thus feels safe.

Yet in complex contexts, there is no right answer and therefore no obvious solution. By their nature, complex contexts display no clear relationships between cause and effect. Ergo, we can’t solve “the problem” and implement “the solution”. Only after acting can we discover what impact our action had on the given situation. And that’s why acting takes the form of small experiments.

What if managers overcame their need to look as if they have the solution?

Let’s reframe the role of a manager as that of a leader. A leader’s responsibility is to align others around purpose and vision and to foster collaboration and co-creation for effective change.

In this reframe, what would PLANNING look like from a leader’s perspective? What would she do after becoming clear around the Why (purpose) and the What (direction) of the change when facing a complex context?

1️⃣ Effective leaders open up the discussion. They initiate interactive discussion forums, where everyone is encouraged to speak. Facilitated large group processes are effective tools to let innovative ideas emerge out of the collective.

2️⃣ Effective leaders set the boundaries, i.e. the parameters of experimentation. Within these boundaries everyone can run fail safe experiments without asking permission on how to proceed. Boundaries allow a system to self-regulate. Take the AirBnB rules which allow the AirBnB community to police itself through reviews on the interaction, including the host’s fair description of the accommodation and the guest’s respectful use.

3️⃣ Rather than narrowing down solutions, those who lead effectively in complex contexts remain open to many options. They create choices and let competing small and inexpensive experiments run in parallel. Solutions might be combinations of both!

4️⃣ Leaders come up with criteria for when to amplify or to shut down an experiment. They must hone their ability to closely watch the emerging patterns of behaviour in the system in order to amplify what works and shut down what does not.

Strong leadership is required to

🔹 Never lose sight of purpose 

🔹 (Re)Align the overall direction with the reality of the interventions’ feedback.

🔹 Engage workers on the path towards effective change.

That inspires everyone in the workplace to step up and take initiative. And that is needed in times of complexity and uncertainty.

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