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Transformative Change: Building the Bridge as you Walk on Starts with You

Building the bridge as you walk on it

According to Robert E. Quinn, Director of the Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship, transformation is an organic process that requires learning.

I often refer to it as “Building the bridge as you walk on it.”

Let’s say you want to make a big change.

You know the exact spot on the far shore where you want to be after you cross the river.

You know where the bridge should start and end.

But you don’t know how to build it, so you put a post in the ground, and then another one.

Some posts stay and some fall, and you learn to anchor them better as you add plank after plank.

The process works because everyone knows the end spot and everyone is telling the truth about both the successes and the failures.

What holds the process together is integrity and authenticity.

When people are making change happen together and don’t know how to do it, all they have is trust and learning, and the processes becomes self-organizing, unfolding all the time but we cannot see them.

Our normal assumptions keep us from recognizing self-organization and self-leadership.

Yet the job of the leader in the transformation process is to stimulate that very thing.

Change Comes from Within

Whenever we talk to people about intervention to create transformative change, we tell leaders that they need to explore their company’s culture, and often, we get a response like, “We don’t want to waste a whole day doing a program on culture.”

It all boils down to the notion of making strategies comprehensible and visual, and then engaging people in conversations. When you create shared meaning and higher purpose, people self-organize and stuff happens!

Change leaders have to be able to facilitate authentic conversations.

If people at the top are fixed on control, their rigidity can kill the transformation processes.

The problem with many authority figures is that they say they are initiating change, but are actually only initiating the rhetoric of change. They cannot comprehend the bridge building process.

Four Fundamental Questions

If you want to start a transformation process for yourself or others, ask yourself these questions:

  1. What result do I want to create?
    If you really know this, it immediately changes you.
  2. Am I internally directed?
    If you are, and are operating with an authentic voice, you have all the power you need.
  3. Am I other-focused?
    If so, you’re on the path to being a servant-leader, and you can build a system where people are committed to a higher good.
  4. Am I externally open?
    If you answer yes, you can begin to build that bridge as you walk on it, and lead others to do the same.

At the Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship, we try to prepare people to lead change. People change themselves, and when they’ve done that, they can do much more, feel more courage and less fear, and can let go of things they once wanted to control. They start new processes and let people around them organize in new ways and begin to learn their own way into the future.

 

Robert E. Quinn holds the Margaret Elliot Tracey Collegiate Professorship at the University of Michigan and serves on the faculty of Organization and Management at the Ross Business School. His newest book is The Deep Change Field Guide (Jossey-Bass 2012), which presents his landmark book, Deep Change, as a personal course. He is one of the co-founders and the current Director of the Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship. The Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship studies what is positive in organizations and the people who comprise them. Its members conduct research, write, and create tools to help people improve their work life. Visit www.centerforpos.org

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