“Who likes change?”

When I ask this question at the beginning of Change Management workshops, invariably a lot of hands go up.  When I then ask the group to keep their hands up if they like change that is imposed on them by others, virtually all the hands go down.

People share ideas during an OST discussion session.

People share ideas during an OST discussion session. Empowering Communities through Conversation [photo credit: Justin Wan, The Gazette, Iowa City]

We seem to be energised by change that we initiate ourselves; when the change is based on our goals, desires and values.  We are considerably less energised when change is based on someone else’s priorities and we haven’t been consulted before we have to implement it.  When I linked this recognition to the often quoted statistic that 70% of change initiatives in organisations fail (Professor John P. Kotter, McKinsey & Company),  it made me think about how to approach change differently.

As is often the case with these sort of epiphanies, there is usually a connection with something that’s happening in one’s own life and in mine, my thoughts came when I had just been introduced to Open Space Technology (OST).

Open Space Technology is a process of self organisation that can be used to build ideas, find solutions to problems and, most importantly, to engage and enable people in making things happen.

I was lucky enough to have a conversation with Harrison Owen, the originator of Open Space Technology, and I asked him what he thought were the ideal circumstances in which to use OST. He replied with the following three scenarios:

  1. When there is a large and diverse audience who are faced with a complex problem that they don’t know how to resolve.
  2. There is energy and enthusiasm about finding a solution.
  3. An answer is needed quickly.

One of the essential principles of OST is ‘Whoever comes are the right people’ so the potential audience could be anyone who has an interest in finding a solution to whatever the problem or issue happens to be. Those people are then invited to join the event; no one is forced to attend, everything is voluntary.

OST is an extraordinarily enabling process perhaps because it asks those attending to think about and discuss what is important to them in relation to the topic and they are given the time and space to explore their ideas or concerns with people who are genuinely interested in exploring them too.

The specific outcomes from an OST event cannot be predicted but what is certain is that those involved will be energised in making the change happen because it’s their idea and they were given the opportunity to make a difference.

Watch a short video of OST in action:

Open Space isn’t the panacea for all change situations but if managers can stop thinking that they must manage every aspect of change and that they must make every single decision;  if they can involve the people who will ultimately be responsible for making the change happen, then perhaps that 70% figure will be dramatically reduced.

For further reading and ideas:

  1. Wave Rider: Leadership for High Performance in a Self-Organizing World by Harrison Owen
  2. Build a change platform, not a change program by McKinsey & Company
  3. Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail by John P. Kotter on hbr.org

The information, conversation and interaction doesn’t end here. We are discussing these topics on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Join the conversation.