James F. Meredith, RA, LEED AP, Workplace Strategy
Corporate & Commercial Studio Leader
The best way to prepare for change is to decide the things that won't change.
Joseph Kosuth, “Self Defined,” 1965, Neon tubing
The organizations we work with are now much more ready to move in substantially new directions than at any time in the past decade. The change momentum we were witnessing before the Great Interruption of the Great Recession, now seems to be building again. The recession’s pause gave organizations the opportunity to reassess what they were up to and reorient with a new or refreshed vision and sense of purpose.
Economic considerations had been, or were assumed to be, a major part of the strategy in earlier moves. What we see now seems to be more substantial and authentic. Where the marketing sense of “brand” dominated before, clients are more open about discussing “culture” now. Where profits were the obligatory goal before, purpose, with a sense of meaningful contribution to the world, now seems to be rising in our discussions.
As a sense of the need for big change arises, so also does the concern for how to make beneficial change successful. As a natural consequence, we’ve recently had a number of conversations with clients and potential clients around the subject of “change management.”That’s why I was pleased to receive John Hegel’s article today on the “paradox of change.” Hegel proposes that “the best way to prepare for change is to decide the things that won’t change.”
Hegel proposes three questions for identifying the things that won’t change –
What principles or values will I hold constant?
What purpose or direction will I hold constant?
Who are the people I am going to take on the journey and who I am going to stay with no matter what?
Here are some challenges that are both guiding our practice as well as helping us design for change in other places.
One current client has embarked on a project for a new headquarters. They are in the very dynamic and unsettled world of healthcare. They have a deep empathy with their customers who are confronted with complex and difficult choices that generate stress for themselves and their families. Our client now sees themselves as having a important role in reducing that stress. They have defined the differentiating behaviors of people who are peacemakers and now are reshaping their culture around this role and these behaviors.
Another client has reflected on how their work is and will be done, and is about to remake their workplaces in more than twenty cities. This organization guards the resources and guides the performance of a large variety of enterprise types. Understanding the significant and complex challenges faced by those in the middle tier of their markets, they have shaped their culture to attract and develop a diverse and highly talented group of experts and consultants who will advise and support the evolution and sustainability of organizations serving social services, educational entities and non-profits, among others.
Yet another client sees their role in leading the transformation in the health of its community. They have looked around their region and observed the social and cultural conditions that affect its wellness and economic welfare. With a hypothesis that a sophisticated interdisciplinary mix of academics, scientists, social researchers and clinicians can, if working thematically together, quickly generate breakthrough solutions, they are now preparing a new kind of building for a new form of research and application.
In each of these cases, we removed the design subject from the early agendas. We withheld discussions about the physical spaces and places where these organizations will of their work until we had discussed with them their businesses and found expression of their core purpose, developed with them a concise expression of guiding principles and, through observations and other tools, described the defying characteristics of their people.
We found, then, that many of the anxieties around change – having to give up the familiar, arguing against the assumed new – began to dissolve. The conversations about change and about new places and spaces became challenges embraced by them. Each of the conditions they currently lived in, and each of the new concepts we proposed, were measured against their affirmations of purpose, principles and and the behaviors of people that would be affected by and nurtured by the spaces we’d design.
Shedding the associations with the traditional and conventional forms of their workplaces, their people led the momentum of change by aligning new forms around what mattered to them in the way they worked and related to each other – around unchanging principles, purpose, and behaviors.
Instead of “change management” by us, these approaches and projects shaped “change leadership” by them.