Desire isn’t enough: the three essentials for organizational change

Desire isn't enough to create change

There’s an old joke that goes, How many therapists does it take to change a lightbulb?

Answer: One, but the lightbulb has to want to change.

And it’s true that change of any sort – personal or organizational – starts with desire.

But that’s not enough, as anyone who’s watched New Year’s resolutions fall by the wayside, or corporate change initiatives flounder and fail, knows all too well.

So how can change succeed?

It’s not through willpower or discipline, although both of those are useful.

The real drivers of change are more subtle.

Here are three essentials for sustainable organizational change.

1. Create shared meaning

You’ve identified the change you’re striving for – but are you all defining the words the same way? One person’s definition of “success” may be helping people and making the world a better place, while a fellow team member may see “success” as making lots of money.

What are the key terms and concepts you’re working with? Have you aligned your individual definitions with a shared organizational meaning?

(I wrote about shared meaning in a recent post; link opens in a new window.)

2. Get real

Be honest without being mean. I love Susan Scott’s definition of “honesty” from her book Fierce Conversations:Honesty means full disclosure to myself and others, with good intent.” With good intent. You’re not beating anyone up with your honesty; you’re sharing what’s true for you in order to create understanding and thereby improvement.

What are the real issues you face? What are you thinking, but afraid to say?

3. Don’t label

“She’s bossy. He’s secretive. She’s too emotional.”

Calling people names (which is what these labels really are) isn’t helpful; nor is finger-pointing. While there may be times when you need to point out one person’s actions, do your best to keep the focus on group behaviors rather than individual misdeeds. The only way to create sustainable change is to function as a team, not as a bunch of individuals. Foster collaboration by being collaborative.

What if your colleagues weren’t the enemy? How would that impact your experience and your actions?

4. Get help

I know I said three essentials; here’s a bonus tip. If you’re working to create significant, meaningful, and sustainable change in your organization, you’ll need help. The external perspective offers powerful insights into what’s happening. A skilled facilitator will ask questions that elicit awareness around patterns of communcation and behavior that the group can’t see because they’re embedded in the situation. Coming from outside the organization, with no preconceptions about what’s happened or what the outcome “should” be, the facilitator will keep you focused on collaboration and help you see unexplored potentials, options, and paths forward.

How much does this change matter? How would it feel to experience positive, sustainable change within your organization?

(If you’re thinking about hiring a change consultant, take a look at my post “How NOT to pick a mediator“; link opens in a new window. Or connect with me to learn more about how I can help.)

(image credit:

gljudson Leadership