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Communing With the Storm

The Future of Change Management During An Inflection Point of History

What if the biggest takeaway from the long fog of 2020 is the opportunity to sit with it at length, until the path forward presents itself?

It’s probably fair to say, we aren’t the first generation to undergo seismic changes to how we make sense of the world. But you could argue – we might be the first to go through multiple changes at breakneck speed … so that adjusting to new methods before they become obsolete is impossible.

German philosopher Karl Jaspers coined the phrase “axial age” to describe a lengthy term of adaptation between the Eighth and Third Centuries BCE. It was an age where old certainties had lost their validity, and new ones remained embryonic – not fully “hatched.”

Are we living in such a time? It’s difficult to imagine any other way. Things we used to take for granted, and which our ancestors’ ancestors took for granted, are now limited. In some cases, they’re outright forbidden.

All around us are five simultaneous socio-economic revolutions – the 3rd (information) and 4th (bio-technological) Industrial Revolutions. Overlapping them is constant environmental and ecological change. Overlapping those is social change – in local, national, global, gender, racial and political categories.

Still beyond that lies ideological change – the ever-increasing tapestry of (individualised) constructs, through which we make meaning of our world. For a simple example of this, emerging into the workforce is an entire generation of young adults with an entirely inverse interpretation of what today’s middle-aged generation took for granted. They perceive cultural and social institutions in diametric opposition to how we perceived them.

We are wise at such a point to ask, “What is a change management leader to do?”

If you’re asking such questions, consider Unitive’s online education platform, Change Chef, as an essential part of your transformation tool kit.

Why The Polarisation Model Fails Us

Leading change management is a balancing act in any era. Classically, it tended to mean imposing draconian changes, usually around narrow definitions of “efficiency.” Layoffs, resignations and decreased morale across teams went with the territory.

To be clear, we hold a similar “tactical” view on this subject. Leading change almost always involves draconian changes that affect efficiency. Someone does need to be let go, someone needs to resign and someone’s morale needs to decline.

Fortunately, in this case, the “someone” who needs to go is you – or, more accurately, the “old” you. The version of yourself that might have been useful getting you where you are today … but which, by no means, will take you where you want to go.

Lest you wonder, one thing that won’t change is the variety of responses you’ll get, even when you go about this the right way. There may be some personnel shifts, even losses – but they won’t be mere economic decisions, based on the cold calculation of numbers. They’ll centre around differences of philosophy. In some cases, they might even be salvageable, based on reassignment instead of resignation.

Across these simultaneous shifts, meanwhile, you’ll find entrenched interests on both sides of any issue, fighting to preserve a world that no longer exists. There are always people who don’t want to listen to new ideas, or respect the wisdom of the ages.

Polarised groups, believe it or not, have their own uses in a time of axial change. If you fall closer to one or the other, you need the influences of your opposite, presenting a fundamentally different path, to challenge your own assumptions. This is another area of leadership that calls for self-discipline to avoid reacting emotionally.

But the future will never belong exclusively to extremists. We might instead say that our time belongs to a period of transition to discover the new “middle of the road,” where the vast majority of people live and spend their lives.

As the change leader in your organisation, that’s the “sweet spot” you need to seek – advanced levels of self-awareness that clearly communicate certainty in things that never change, as well as openness to things that do.

Unitive’s online education platform provides holistic training to prepare you for the journey to your sweet spot.

What Is the Future of Change Management?

We’re going to predict the future by looking into the past. To give you an optimal parallel, I have a personal “hindsight” I’d like to share, that might help you humanize the principle.

I went into my first marriage rather like a classical change agent. I’d been raised on a steady diet of very conservative Christianity, where the ethic (if not the reality) was one of a husband’s leadership and authority in the home.

The divorce that ensued pulled the rug out from under my feet, but I lacked the maturity at the time to respond as I would now. I turned inwardly and medicated with alcoholism. You might loosely compare it with the absenteeism or half-heartedness of a leader who becomes a “figurehead.” I just gave up, and sought relief rather than renewal.

Had I understood at the time, I’d have taken longer to sit and breathe my way through the pain, to understand what it meant. If I’d kept at it, I might have got close enough to recognise that I’d entered marriage under a false construct. My relationship to my ex-wife was based on a certain “ideology,” which conveniently precluded my own personal growth. I had no plan for adapting to the new reality.

Whatever you think you might do in a similar situation usually amounts to a substitute for the “painkillers” I chose. Many people quickly get remarried, or romantically involved, because they can’t stand the loneliness or the message they get from a permanent rejection. Others turn to substances to numb the pain, and some vow never to risk their heart again.

But remember … we are in an Axial Era. It is not the time to run and hide from the obsolescence of what we used to rely on.

I can see now that the invitation I missed, in the wake of my divorce, was to simply sit at length, and “commune” with the storm. To wait until the emotional mayhem had cleared, and I could think clearly enough to understand and own my part in the dissolution. We are far too quick to assign blame, and not acknowledge any personal responsibility, when things fall through.

Conversations with storms, oddly enough, should be quiet. We should not retaliate against the “inflictors” – usually other people, or organisations of them. Lashing out in anger only worsens our own internal condition, which is what the trauma is really intended to resolve.

Running away from change, into the arms of whichever polar end of the spectrum you most resemble, is also destructive. It’s like having a gangrenous limb, but assuming you will survive if you simply don’t walk on it.

Instead, we have an opportunity to sit, sometimes for a while, with questions we cannot answer for ourselves. True, this is a painful and painstaking process. But we’ve not yet discovered general anesthesia for the soul in undergoing it, as we have for the body with surgical procedures. The way to clarity is through pain or discomfort. You can’t get around it.

It’s also not a good idea to go through it by yourself, without Unitive’s online education platform to help you interpret and contextualize.