System change is constant in today’s busy and adaptive world. Gone are the days when systems could afford the time and resources for slow, plodding change that may or may not outlast the latest fad or approach to a challenge. Our experiences with change initiatives in many organizations over the past decade have shown us a startling fact: All too often, change initiatives that are touted as the next, best thing rarely get fully implemented. They seem to stall somewhere in the implementation process, and while some shifts may occur, full-blown change rarely happens. We don’t say “never” because we have seen some successful initiatives that were, in fact, able to become the way of life in the organization. What makes the difference between initiatives that stall out and those that are successful? How can an organization think about bringing about systemic change that becomes operationalized? Each system is unique, of course, so we can’t say we know how that happens in all situations. What we can share, however, is a model / method that can help increase the chances of successful implementation because it sets the conditions for adaptation across the system.
Grounded in the Landscape Diagram, the Maturity Model of Change by Dennis Cheesbrow, offers both a model that describes what happens in an effective implementation process, as well as a method for planning such an implementation.
Say you work in an organization that knows that a major technological change is on the horizon, and your organization needs to plan for incorporating that change into your daily operations. At some point you step out into the area on this model that is referred to as the zone of Unknown Work. In that space, others have been working on answers, even before you asked the question. There is a whole world of activity, learning, and innovation that is beyond your scope of knowing. After you step into that zone, you and your colleagues start to explore options for programs or answers that will meet your needs.
As you use data about your own unique needs, you look for ways to position your organization to deal with the looming change. This engagement with the unknown helps you better understand your own needs and possible options and is referred to as the zone of Learning Work. You are, in essence, learning about what’s out there and how those options may or may not serve your needs. It is in this space that you ultimately make the decision about specific options that will meet your needs.
Then launches you into the real work of implementation in the zone of Adaptive Work. It is in this area that you identify and address the ways your system must adapt to the new initiative, and you explore ways the new initiative will need to be adapted to work in your system. What capacities must be built? What new policies and procedures must be developed? How will organizational structures and relationships need to shift to allow for successful engagement in the new approach? The system actually remains in the zone of Adaptive Workuntil the whole system is prepared to accept and sustain the change.
At the point when the “new” initiative becomes the operational or daily practice, you have moved into the zone of Control Work. In this zone, slight adjustments and accommodations are often necessary, but because both the operational system and the individuals in the system are well prepared, the initiative finds the reception and acceptance it needs to become the work of the system.
Throughout the process, of adaptation and implementation, it is important that you and other members of the system identify old habits, perspectives, and processes that have to leave the system to create space for the initiative. The hesitancy to give up the “old” ways is often the most insidious challenge to the success of any initiative. Losing what feels more reliable and certain to employees can often create morale issues. Support, training, and transparency are critical to support this process, clearing the path for the new way of doing business.
Finally, another task prepares your system for change, yet its importance is often overlooked. To reduce surprises, you must create transparency in decision making, and ensure that employees at all levels of the system are prepared and aware of the change. Adaptive implementation calls for carefully planned and highly effective communication strategies. As the system enters and moves into each zone of implementation, you create an explosion of communication to inform stakeholders of the progress around the change. Then as the system moves through the zone, periodic and consistent messages keep people across the organization informed of what to expect and what is expected of them.
As a “picture” representation of reality, this model creates a map of an effective change process. As a method, this identifies the steps and actions you need to invest in to ensure effective and thorough implementation required in today’s quickly changing and resource-limited environment.