Change Vital to Healthy Organizations

Change management guru John Kotter wrote in Leading Change that 70% of change initiatives fail leading to millions of lost dollars every year. But more than that, companies need vital changes from time to time to remain viable.

I was a geotechnical engineer for over a decade. As a consequence, I have several metaphors that arise from geology and earth science. The inside of the Earth is filled with a hot, bubbling, swirling mass of molten metals and gas. That swirling bubbling mass permits the planet to go through a constant process of renewal. New continents emerge, weather patterns change, and the life-giving minerals and nutrients from deep within the earth are pushed out onto the surface so that living things can consume them and thrive. This is all possible due to the immense energy that is captured within the core of our world.

Contrast this with Mars has a core of mostly solid rock. Volcanoes are long extinct. There is no ocean. There is a scant atmosphere. Mars is a cold dead world. There is insufficient energy within the planet to sustain the process of renewal. There are geotechnical engineer two things that are common to every known type of life. Living things adapt and evolve. When something stops adapting and evolving, it is dead.

Which organization is better off: one that features intense debate, a struggle of ideas, and filled with organizational conflict or an organization with little communication, no productive ideas, and stagnant thinking? Though the former certainly has its challenges, the latter is dead. The first organization can be healed. New ideas can be managed. Conflicting parties can be worked with to find common ground and to build consensus. But no amount of effort can bring an organism back from the dead. The same is true of organizations. We need to change.

Nick Wolff is President of Wolff Consulting Company. We design, build, and explore tools to help people develop a better understanding of themselves and others.


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