Posted by: healingtheworkplace | June 14, 2009

Organizations CAN Thrive During Difficult Times!

Hello again!

At a recent Your Workplace Conference Dr. Peter Senge spoke to the audience about “building organizations that can thrive in difficult times.”

In order to do this we need to create learning organizations. I’m not going to talk about learning organizations in this post. If you want more information about the work that Peter Senge is doing check out the Society for Organizational Learning or SOL.

What I want to talk about is how organizations deal with change and stress.

In times of stress, organizations hunker down, become protective, enable old habits and suffocate experimentation and joy.”    Peter Senge

I think there are a few things worth mentioning:

  • change and stress are here to stay so we might as well understand how they impact individuals in organizations
  • organizations need to change in order to stay current and remain in business (both profit and non profit)
  • there has been a lot of research into how to help organizations change
  • there has been a lot of research into how to create healthy organizations

 Which leads me to the work of William Bridges who, in the 1990’s, popularized a model of organizational change and transition which was geared toward helping organizations manage change successfully.

On the surface Dr. Bridges model is deceptively simple. BUT having worked in organizations that were going through non-stop change I know that it takes a lot of effort to apply this model.

There also needs to be an awareness of how people change and how change is different from transition and an agreement from leadership that this is important and needs to be attended to!

William Bridges proposes a three-step model:

1. Grieving the losses

2. Exploration and learning (also known as the neutral zone or transition zone)

3. New beginnings

This process is not linear and people go back and forth between the three areas.

ALSO, during organizational change, some people may be still grieving their losses while others have moved forward and are celebrating the new beginnings.

The other important distinction that Willima Bridges makes is that change is different from transition.

Change: Is a shift in the external situation. In the workplace this could mean a change of office, a new leader, working with a new team, layoffs, closing of departments or moving services from one site to another.

Transition: Is an internal shift. This is the psychological re-orientation that takes place when we respond to change. For transition to be effective it usually begins with a period of grieving (acknowledging the loss) and then perhaps a change in the way we see the world and, of course, a change in who we are.

Transition takes longer than change. Change can happen in a heartbeat. One minute you are employed and the next minute you are not.

But the psychological process of readjustment takes much longer.

Now, getting back to organizations.

 The transition zone is the time when organizations can really benefit. If organizational leaders have some sense (common?) and awareness of what is going on they can…dare I use this word? CAPITALIZE on this time by encouraging people to:

  • experiment with new ideas
  • take risks
  • explore new ways of being and working
  • innovate
  • learn new things
  • tap into people’s creativity
  • encourage people to grow

Of course the transition zone is also known as the “wilderness” and it is characterized by chaos and uncertainty.

This is why organizations don’t want to spend much time here. Leaders in these organizations want to RUSH people from what is finished (ending) to what is starting (new beginnings).

AND this is why Peter Senge told the audience at the Your Workplace Conference:

“In times of stress, organizations hunker down, become protective, enable old habits and suffocate experimentation and joy.”

 Both Peter Senge and William Bridges are advocating for the same things.

The choice for organizations is whether or not to THRIVE during difficult time or mearly to SURVIVE.

I don’t think surviving is an option. In recent months we have seen too many organizations go bankrupt and too many people lose their livelihoods and their hopes for the future.



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