A crab by any other name ...
The crab reminds us that
the motivation for change
can be the need to manage
the results of success
The first article in this series described two approaches to either organizational transformation or change -- the magician and house of mirrors -- that are more mythical than substantive. We shift our focus in this article to the dynamics of large system organizational change. Intense. Stressful. Essential. And not to be confused with the fundamental transformations organizations will have to undergo to stay on the path of excellence.
Nature provides us with a powerful set of images to help make this distinction. Let us begin with a crab whose normal life cycle contains multiple large "system changes." At various points, the crab finds itself having outgrown its shell. In other words, it must molt in order to be able to grow to its next natural stage of development. However, when it has successfully navigated this change process, it will still be a crab. Essentially the same as it was before. Bigger. Stronger. Meatier. But still a crab.
The first important factor to notice in this process is that it is the result of the crab's success. Had the crab "failed" since its last molting period -- i.e., been eaten up by the competition, or been unable to fend for itself -- it would not be in a position to have to go through another round of growing pains.
So much of what is written and believed about organizational change has its roots in a defensive posture: "We have to change or we'll fail, we'll die." The crab or lobster reminds us that the motivation for needed change can be equally driven by the need to manage the consequences of success.
In my many years as a consultant, I have noticed how little attention is paid in organizations to the unique challenges presented by the need to manage success. There are a plethora of opportunities to take courses on problem solving or correcting mistakes. But I've never, in my experience, seen a formal management course on success management. And make no mistake about it; the skills and mindsets needed to manage success are not merely the opposite of those needed to solve problems. It would never dawn upon us, for example, to celebrate a problem or try, at least, to learn from it so as not to repeat it. On the other hand, we also generally do a very poor job of celebrating our success, and seldom take the time to analyze it so we can repeat it.
So, crustations remind us of two important qualities of the dynamics of large system organizational change. First, it can be motivated by an organization's natural cycles of growth. In contrast to the disappointment and potential pain associated with needing to manage an unanticipated abnormality, a failure, it can be the pleasant, normal result of having been successful.
However, simply because the change is motivated by natural and positive forces of success, does not mean the change will be without pain. Here again crustations provide an essential reminder. When a crab is managing and coping with its normal successes, when it sheds its existing hardened outer shell, it enters a period of intense vulnerability. Like a large organization that has been through a major growth spurt, in the period between shedding an old skin and developing a new one the crab is in a weakened state. Its natural predators know this and they will redouble their efforts to attack. Organizationally, this can range from trying to pirate key employees who might be uncomfortable with the uncertainty that often accompanies such rapid change to hostile takeovers of those whose cash flow cannot keep up with their rapidly increasing appetites.
As a senior leader, ask yourself the following question: What specific steps do you take to protect your organization when it is going through the vulnerability associated with normal growing pains?
"Fine and good!" you say. "But what about when the changes are driven by the need to down-size to stay alive? When survival, and not success, is paramount?
We will address this important issue of the periodic need for a pruning in the next article.
Irwin Rubin is a Honolulu-based author and president of Temenos Inc., which specializes in executive leadership development and behavioral coaching, communication skill building training, and large system culture change. His column appears twice a month in the Honolulu Star Bulletin. Send questions and column suggestions to email@example.com
or visit temenosinc.com.
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