The Power and Character of “Respected Change”


How many times during your career have you been involved in an environment of change? During my 35-year career with the Department of Navy, change was a regular event associated with the rotation of our activity commanding officer. These irregular and sometimes untimely events brought with them significant shifts in the focus or morale of the workforce. Another periodic event that impacts the whole nation on a regular cadence is the four-year election cycle that concludes at times in changes to our national approach dependent on the election of a new President.

This impact of change can either improve or impede the momentum of an organization or society. A.T. Ariyaratne, a Sri Lankan community organizer said, “When we try to bring about change in our societies, we are treated first with indifference, then with ridicule, then with abuse and then with oppression. And finally, the greatest challenge is thrown at us: We are treated with respect. This is the most dangerous stage.”

How can we in government that desperately seek some form of stability ensure that successful change remains for our organization? The reality to sustaining positive change lies in the actions or reactions of every employee. The ultimate drivers of change sustainment are the leadership of the activity or organization. For the military and political cycles of change, the responsibility for sustaining positive change resides with the career civil servant.

Ariyaratne’s quote reminds us that “it is easier to begin initiatives than bring enduring changes to fruition.” For changes that have evolved through the rigors of adaptation and acceptance to the point of respect, it is essential for the leadership to protect the essence of such change. Transformation that attains a level of respect becomes a guiding principle that must become a foundational component of an organization’s strategic plan.

The danger to ideas of change that garner respect is to believe that the work is complete. The reality is that the work may just be starting. How can we ensure the sustainment of “respected” guiding principles?

With today’s focus in building “learning organizations”, the need to strategically understand the depth of those principles that make an organization efficient and effective must occur. The establishment of sustainment of the guiding principles begins with an understanding of the focus and timing associated with them. When examining focus of a “respected change”, it must be determined as to what elements of the change are essential and which are secondary. In the development of tactical actions to enact guiding principles timing of those actions must be understood. It is vitally important for an organization to understand the tempo of their capability to accomplish actions. Many times the personality of your workforce dictates the speed that change or sustainment of successful principles can be attained.

There are many influences that impact an organization’s ability to “accelerate.” When seeking to accelerate change or programs, it should be understood that over-acceleration can destroy or impede success as a result. There are too many well-planned, thoroughly designed ideas doomed to failure because of a short-ranged vision concerning the timing needed to bring success. By understanding the important aspects of focus and timing the “essence of strategic thinking” becomes the savior of “respected change.”

Through the employment of “strategic thinking,” many core dilemmas can be addressed to help sustain the guiding principles of an organization. Some of the factors that make significant change difficult revolve around the “conflict among competing goals and norms.” Key approaches to dealing with conflict involve a balanced approach to “distribution of power and authority” in combination with “improved control and coordination.” Those organizations and activities that succeed at strategic thinking build environments that are stable and coherent in their sense of identity, purpose, and vision. The challenges to retaining “respected change” are many. Tools are available for dedicated leadership and organizations through a “committed strategic thinking” process to be successful in the sustainment of “respected change.”

Note: Source document for the principles expressed in this blog are taken from the “Fifth Discipline Fieldbook” authored by a team led by Peter Senge.

Darryl Perkinson is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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