Vitality: Collisions Between Stability & Instability
I’m grappling with how much change is too much.
It feels like I’m surrounded by people that love stability and predictability – things low on my list of priorities.
The collision between change agents and stabilizers is inevitable, dynamic, potentially dangerous, and theoretically useful.
Stabilizers apart from change agents are dangerous. They seek consistent processes and procedures that create sluggishness, inefficiencies, and comfortable irrelevance. Eventually the ultimate goal of their organizations eventually becomes self-preservation.
Change agents apart from stabilizers are dangerous. They destabilize processes and procedures in search of innovation and growth. They transform organizations into fast moving machines that create burn out, inefficiencies, and uncomfortable irrelevance. Eventually the ultimate goal of their organizations eventually becomes self-preservation.
Stabilizers and change agents have colliding values. Collisions between them may result in conflict that if misunderstood causes paralyzing stress, distracting conflict, and harmful disrespect.
Both, constant change and persistent sameness increase stress, lower confidence, and decrease productivity.
Creative tension between stabilizers and change agents develops healthy, dynamic organizations that add value to their constituents, customers, and communities.
The benefit of colliding perspectives is diversity and maturity.
Organizations always tend to stagnate without intentional destabilization.
Innovation and change are best embraced and expressed by stable organizations. You need a stable present to change the future. Change produces vitality. Constant change, however, discourages people and creates ineffective environments.
Forward moving organizations always lean into change not sameness. How much is enough? Appropriate amounts of instability move organizations forward.
Do small doses of change yield big results? Can you balance stability and change or do 50/50 organizations stagnate?
Shared values stabilize organizations. You could value innovation. Finding stability, however, in processes and procedures is death.
What do you think about the tension between change agents and stabilizers? How much is enough/too much?
Coexistence is not only possible but essential. I learned this working in a major Japanese company, where the cultural need for stability effectively incorporates a continuous improvement/learning practice. Change in this environment is evolutionary rather than revolutionary, and wholly acceptable from a stabilizers perspective. It is sort of an accepted procedure for change.
Thanks for your comment. I think you are talking about the advantage of a culture of change. Love the combination of change and stability. Great illustration.
Hey Jim, great comment. Whenever someone says coexistence I think interdependence, which connotes to me not only that we need each other but that we do better together than alone.
How well the tension works between the stabilizers and the change agents depends on the nature of the organization.
Because an organization has been around for a long time or appears to be stable, does not mean that it is good or will be able to move forward into the future successfully.
Stable is not stagnant. If an organization is stagnant, then it will take a big leap, probably in multiple smaller doses.
If an organization is stable, an in-tune with what’s going on around it, then the changes are probably small and going on all the time.
But, we cannot foster change for change sake in any size organization. It all has to be with a purpose and a goal.
Martina, I appreciate your reminder that sometimes stability is a positive. Was talking to a plumber friend recently and he commented that the last true technological improvement to the toilet was indoor plumbing. Since then that technology has been stable, because it’s a great solution to the need. Every attempt to tinker with it just made it more expensive without making it better.
Sounds like it (plumbing industry) may still be flush with opportunity to be the next step in plumbing innovation… 😉
har har … Doc, you’ve plumbed new depths of insight.
“Stable is not stagnant” helps me!
You are welcome, Dan. But I too find myself in a situation where people cannot tell the difference between the two.
Stagnation will kill them and the organization. No new blood really wants to step into an area that is dead still. You and your organization may be at the absolute top f your game today, but will that be true tomorrow?
Very intriguing post, Dan. As usual, you capture all the salient points. I especially want to support the value of dynamic tension between stability and change agents.
I’m inclined to think that your organization will get strong hints about how much to change from the market it serves. Dan Cathy said, “When external change exceeds the pace of internal change, disaster is imminent.” Bottom line for me: if change doesn’t add value to the customer or the organization, then it’s just shuffling the deck chairs while the boat sinks. If it will add value, you should be able to quantify or at least guesstimate how much, which will help you make the case for change. If you can’t describe the value, then the stability guy may be right.
We keep a culture that’s open to change by having a formal program of continuous improvement, driven mostly by looking for and eliminating the seven wastes. When everyone is always looking for that small improvement, then the big change seems more natural.
Your contribution to this and other conversations adds value! Thank you.
Here’s my take away: Only engage in value based change.
I think it’s a book title: “Value Based Change”
Very interesting topic – my two cents:
As some previous commenters have mentioned, the most effective balance of stability and change probably depends on several things, like industry, organizational maturity, organizational culture, market, etc.
Now add to that this: within any organization, there are some things that might need to be more stable (e.g. mission, values, our core capabilities, etc.), and some things that benefit from more frequennt evolution (our processes, skill sets, technologies).
I find it helpful to also consider a typical maturity/learning curve – if we change so rapidly that we don’t give ourselves time to reach full productivity within an area before we change it up again, it can be unproductive.
An analogy for this could be: Imagine we have a key position we need filled. Now, what if we hired someone, but then replaced him after two months, then hired someone else, and replaced her after three months, and then hired yet another person, who we again replaced…and so on. Most of us can probably see how this wouldn’t make sense – changes need time to take hold before we can truly guage if they are productive. The same concepts often apply in other areas too (e.g. processes, strategies, etc.).
Tim, I agree and you made my point much more succinctly than I could have.
As to the level of tension that should exist between change and stability, I guess it ultimately depends on the scale of the organization, the business cycle, and what level of change occurs within each part of it.
A one person/smaller organization can implement change more easily than or larger organization. And a company that can measure changes in process results in minutes can adapt more quickly than one that measures results over hours, days, or even more infrequently.
Dan, you mentioned “Constant change, however, discourages people and creates ineffective environments.” Even in organizations that embrace change, I think truly constant change creates chaos because work processes and expectations disintegrate in the face of the ambiguity that exists.
Tim, great points, especially about the things that should remain stable. In fact, those things are the foundation change is built on, and change should probably come mostly as external forces require internal change to remain true to the mission and values.
Dan – I love the way you distill salient thoughts into a few words and still get your point across. I support the idea of constructive tension between change agents and stabilizers. Being a change agent myself, I know the value of pulling in a stabilizer to help me slow down. The key is really in the relationship and the relationship is in the communications. Strong team effort is required, and constant movement forward keep the organization alive and vibrant.
There’s a difference between stability and stagnation. What is healthy in business is also reflected all around us in nature – healthy growth and evolution, if you will. Whether it’s the human body, the flow of a stream or the growth of a tree, there is steady flow and change, but it is stable and flexible in nature. A seeming paradox perhaps, but none-the-less desirable. Even our overall progression as a human race reflects this growth, since the stone age. We’re really blessed to live in a society that allows the freedom to choose change as well.
However, desiring change for change’s sake is missing the boat. We desire growth, which requires change. But not all change results in growth.
Very nice piece – it addresses an issue that many organizations deal with. What most companies wrestle with is what constitutes a “healthy balance” between change and stability. In healthy organizations change agents constantly apply pressure to improve the status quo, and stabilizing forces attempt to pull back change agents from the bleeding edge to the leading edge. In unhealthy organizations the two camps act as opposing, if not polarizing forces that wage philosophical and positional turf wars to justify a particular belief rather than advance the good of the organization. One last thought: Constant change is only unhealthy when it’s unsuccessful. Successful, progressive change by design can add value in a ways which are quite inspirational and motivating.
I would consider myself a Change Agent and as such have always worked for companies who are in there growth cycle. I agree with Georgia also you then realize you need a stabilizer to offset your personality. Neither of these characterstics are a bad thing it just goes to show you that teamwork is necessary in any organization and that relationships/communication are very important.
Is this partially a case of perceptions? One person’s collision is another person’s dynamic dialogue. Perhaps there is a needed synergy at work. So have to wonder if there is more overlap than we perceive.
Stabilizers may be seen as seeking a constant structure/process which provides the necessary foundation for change agents to innovate and help all grow.
Are stabilizers actually closet change agents and vice versa?
While we believe we crave constants, predictability, etc., is that realistic on this marble? And then there is too much of a good thing and we get bored, complacent and eventually begin to ruminant in our stagnation.
On the other end of the spectrum, perpetual change without learning/growing winds its way down a dangerous path as well.
The leader’s role is to define a pace (coupled with patience) as others may perceive the leader’s pace as too aggressive, etc. Definitely the leader has to listen, internally and externally and determine the pace. Incremental change, when possible is a great approach, time to absorb and plan for the next. However, there are always the cases where elements of the pace are dictated by outside sources. In those instances it is a case of ‘get a grip’ and hold on to the ‘E’ ticket ride!
Change is inevitable. On the outside it involves our circumstances. On the inside of us, change is a choice — and attitude that can affect our “stability” in a positive or a negative way.
Major changes in our economy and US leadership are affecting many aspects of our lives. How we “choose” to respond, what we label these changes to be, how we measure them will affect stability.
Some changes are beyond our control…this is an important element as well…realizing what is in our control to change and understanding what is outside of our control to change is also important.
What we forget, is that we can effect change.
Great post Dan, and great comments. Let me throw something else into the mix. In my experience it’s often not the amount or rate of change that’s the issue as much as the way the change is handled. People don’t like feeling out of control, but they take just about any amount of change if they feel and are in control to some extent. This can involve collaborative decision making, but more often it involves listening and acknowledging fear or discomfort.
Speaking of vitality, stability, and instability, you might enjoy a short read (Kindle), Inside Apple, From Steve Jobs Down to the Janitor: How America’s Most Successful and Most Secretive Company Works, by Adam Lashinsky. I spent my first 15 years of entrepreneurship (1985-2000) with Apple Computer as a strategic inside partner – the most real years of my career. It was a perfect balance of instability and stability, sometimes both at once. The vitality has been transformative and sustainable to this day.
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Great post, with also great comments!
The art of progress is to preserve order amid change and to preserve change amid order. — Alfred North Whitehead
Here was my take on this very same issue, using that quote as my base … http://johnponders.com/2012/02/29/the-high-wire-act-of-organizational-change/
Glad I found you!