Change Never Comes for Free

How do peo­ple cope with change? Fam­i­ly ther­a­pist Vir­ginia Satir has pro­vid­ed an inter­est­ing mod­el that can also be applied to orga­ni­za­tion­al changes. A sta­ble sta­tus quo is chal­lenged by a for­eign ele­ment. After ini­tial resis­tance to the for­eign ele­ment, the con­fronta­tion with it ini­tial­ly leads to uncer­tain­ty and chaos and thus to a loss in pro­duc­tiv­i­ty. Depend­ing on the strength of this impulse, this phase lasts for a longer or short­er peri­od of time until the chances of change are final­ly under­stood and uti­lized. Grad­u­al­ly, the group will return to its orig­i­nal pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and hope­ful­ly grow even fur­ther. In essence, how­ev­er, this mod­el means that change can nev­er come for free. As triv­ial as this sounds, orga­ni­za­tions rarely admit this in both large and small changes. And then fail due to false expec­ta­tions and their impatience.

satir_graph
Source: Steven M. Smith

This dia­gram from the detailed arti­cle by Steven M. Smith illus­trates very well the mod­el of Vir­ginia Satir, whose var­i­ous phas­es and their impli­ca­tions for change I will briefly exam­ine in the following.

Phase 1: Late Status Quo

Sta­bil­i­ty pre­vails in this phase. Both the rela­tion­ships and expec­ta­tions are sta­ble. The coop­er­a­tion is well-estab­lished, albeit not with­out fric­tion, but always with the same known shortcomings.

Phase 2: Resistance

The sta­tus quo, which may have exist­ed for years, is chal­lenged by a for­eign ele­ment. This could be a new tech­nol­o­gy that threat­ens the exist­ing busi­ness mod­el (e.g. MP3 in com­bi­na­tion with broad­band Inter­net), a new com­peti­tor with a dif­fer­ent way of work­ing and high­er pro­duc­tiv­i­ty (e.g. lean pro­duc­tion at Toy­ota) or a world that is becom­ing increas­ing­ly VUCA and requires a trans­for­ma­tion towards more agili­ty. Or a com­bi­na­tion of all of this. The first reac­tion to this is denial, rejec­tion and resistance.

Phase 3: Chaos

After ini­tial resis­tance, the reli­able rela­tion­ships col­lapse in reac­tion to the for­eign ele­ment. The clear roles and sta­ble process­es that have marked the late sta­tus quo are at stake. This leads to uncer­tain­ty and fear, because it is not yet clear what the new sta­tus quo will look like. How­ev­er, this phase is essen­tial and must not be bridged out of impa­tience with sil­ver bul­lets like frame­works and blue­prints used else­where (“Let’s just do it like Spotify!”).

Phase 4: Integration

In this phase, the group rec­og­nizes how the once for­eign ele­ment can be suc­cess­ful­ly inte­grat­ed and used. Peo­ple change per­spec­tives and begin to exper­i­ment with the new ele­ment and gain expe­ri­ence with it. Despite fail­ures and mis­takes dur­ing these exper­i­ments, new reli­able rela­tion­ships, clear roles and sta­ble process­es emerge.

Phase 5: New Status Quo

The for­eign ele­ment is now ful­ly inte­grat­ed and every­thing has returned to a sim­i­lar­ly sta­ble state as in the pre­vi­ous sta­tus quo. Hope­ful­ly at a high­er lev­el of pro­duc­tiv­i­ty, though.

Accompanying the Change

In order to be able to accom­pa­ny change process­es as a coach, it is first nec­es­sary to rec­og­nize where the group cur­rent­ly stands. Vir­ginia Satir’s mod­el helps here. It’s essen­tial to get through phase three of chaos. It con­tains the seeds for a new and more pro­duc­tive sta­tus quo. The task here is to help peo­ple gain new per­spec­tives and grad­u­al­ly pro­mote exper­i­ment­ing with the new and the for­eign and learn­ing from each oth­er. It is impor­tant to make first suc­cess­es of these exper­i­ments vis­i­ble for every­one, because exact­ly these suc­cess­es can be the deci­sive impulse (the trans­form­ing idea in Vir­ginia Satir’s mod­el) for oth­er teams. Even more impor­tant is to fight impa­tience and avoid tempt­ing short­cuts with appar­ent sil­ver bullets.

Prob­lems are not the prob­lem; cop­ing is the problem.
Vir­ginia Satir

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