Leaders facing change: How deep and wide is the challenge?

Examining the many facets of change.

Seasons change
Credit: Courtesy 123rf.com

Change is all around us. Like the seasons, change is inevitable for leaders. Just looking into the various synonyms for "change" proves to us the wide variety of connotations this often over-used word can represent.

Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything. - George Bernard Shaw

As a leader, when we face change, it is often useful to examine the exact extent of change being proposed or mandated. Let’s take a look at a few of the other meanings.

Transformation

I don’t know about you, but to me, this word has a positive spin. I think about the caterpillar weaving a cocoon and morphing into the beautiful butterfly. Now that is a transformation. Business unit transformation can be a long, time consuming challenge. As an example, changing or transforming a corporate culture requires extreme effort.

Alteration

I hate it when my suits need to be altered. That is not usually a positive; nor is requiring a change that involves alteration. Something inevitably gets cut out and left on the screening room floor. Alteration is often associated with budget cuts or scope changes. Plans get "altered" to fit new requirements.

Modification 

This is change that comes from the recognition of new parameters: rule changes, law changes, or some kind of compliance shift. Modification happens mostly when reality unfolds that does not match the initial assumptions or projections. We modify the plan or program to make it work toward a better outcome. Many homeowners in the United States had to modify their mortgages when the financial crisis hit and property values declined.

Variation 

Similar to modification, variation suggests change when conditions no longer favor or even allow the course first begun. Course correction for pilots and ship captains is frequent when weather conditions ahead make the planned route dangerous or uncomfortable.

Revolution

Now this is serious change. A revolutionary event is usually associated with overthrowing an old regime and establishing a new normal. Clearly revolution as we have come to know it is far more radical change.

Adjustment

This is a far less radical change. A mere adjustment can represent minor corrections so that proper solutions can be reached.

Amendment

A firm and binding change applied to something that was otherwise thought to be absolute. We have amendments to our U.S. Constitution. Even with all of the work on the draft of the original Constitution, there was an immediate recognition of the need for amendments to better define some key principles. We amend contracts today so that there can be proper recognition of change.

This list is far from exhaustive, but back to my original point: Leaders are faced with potential "change moments" perhaps every day. The degree and severity of the need for change and the response to that need should be carefully examined before decisions are made. Do you need to amend something if a small alteration could work? Do you need to start a revolution to affect a small variation?

I welcome comments to expand the discussion.

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