Across the world, people are facing increasingly complex challenges in their lives and workplaces. From poverty to climate change to racial inequity to the future of work, these all require equally complex solutions. Achieving long-term, transformational change is incredibly hard, but our character strengths are within us to help us do the work.
If a glowing sunset stops you in your tracks or you lose track of time when strolling through an art museum, appreciation of beauty and excellence (ABE) might be one of your signature character strengths.
ABE speaks to our capacity to relish the best of what we see and experience in the world around us. This strength also allows us to notice beauty amid mess or chaos. While nature and visual imagery are obvious examples for experiencing ABE, there are less obvious and potentially more powerful possibilities. The potential to appreciate complex systems and enact systems change with an “elegance” mindset is one such possibility.
In this blog post, Strong Cincinnati explains how systems change is done and why it matters. We offer a 5-step plan for tackling systems change in the workplace.
What is Systems Change Work?
Systems change is fundamentally rethinking assumptions: What do we value? What are our organization’s rules and policies? Who are the people and interests we prioritize? What kind of future do we want for our organization? The transformation of matters at the system levels is system change.
Creating a deliberate process to transform a system’s fundamental behaviors will not be done through a silver bullet. Shifting mindsets is the hardest systems change strategy, but it is also potentially the most powerful. When we can shift the big-picture mindset of an organization, we change the context, culture, and behaviors. Systems change needs everyone from decision-makers in the C-suite to laypeople on the ground floor to give input.
Bold thinking and a recognition of excellence is required when you’re working to change an entire system. That’s true in business, education, even government. To change a system, you must first understand the overall system you’re trying to impact and recognize the good to retain. Then, you can attempt to move it to a desired outcome.
According to Professor Azad Madni in the Daniel J. Epstein Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at the University of Southern California, “Elegance is a term frequently associated with aesthetics in design. It typically connotes simplicity, beauty, and grace.” However, “when it comes to complex systems, it also connotes predictable behavior, power, and creative functionality. Elegance is what separates the merely functional from the engaging.”
Reading about Madni’s work in systems engineering and reflecting on our work with people-centric systems and change, I was struck by the similarities. After being involved in decades of large and small “reform” efforts, it seems that there is no shortage of innovative solutions to our challenges. New ideas and re-branding of old ideas are constantly emerging. While many of these innovations hold promise, it is rare to witness real and sustained change. Why?
“BECAUSE WHAT WE REALLY HAVE IS A SCARCITY OF INTEREST/ABILITY/ATTENTION SPAN FOR CAPACITY-BUILDING AND ADOPTION.
Elegant systems change calls for an iterative, creative process that exploits systems thinking by probing and questioning. This doesn’t happen quickly. The work it takes to build successful change processes within and across organizations, communities and partnerships doesn’t happen overnight. So, what steps can you take?
Related Post: How Do We Build A Positive Workplace Culture?
What are the 5 Key Elements of Successful Change?
Acknowledge and Understand the Need for Change
You need to know the system you’re trying to change before jumping to a solution. Involve a wide range of people, from decision-makers to middle management to vendors and partners to entry-level employees, to develop a solution that addresses the complexity of the issue. Is this policy working for some but not all? Are you dealing with an equity issue or an external motivator? Is a gap in relationships or connections inflaming the problem? Find out specifically what needs to change.
Communicate What the Problem is
Do you remember being a kid in a situation where someone above you started making sweeping changes without telling you why? Whether it was a parent you loved or teacher you respected, your commitment to the changes was most likely weakened if they didn’t get your buy-in. Once you’ve developed a shared understanding of the issue that needs to be changed, communicate that with all the stakeholders. Answer their questions without rushing and listen to their concerns.
Create Change Plans
You’ve recognized the issue, worked with a group of people to fully understand it, and communicated the issue to stakeholders. Now, you need a plan. ABE is critical here in helping you be concise. What exactly will be different? What are the performance measures that will make this change excellent? What objectives do you want to achieve? Identify the change you want to see and what success will look like.
Implement Change Plans
To successfully implement, everyone must know their role in creating this change. Watch for stress and pivot when you need to. As far as possible, maintain the routines that you can. When you’re looking at team/systems change, make sure you understand how the people in it react to change. Manage those reactions.
Evaluate and Celebrate
When you can identify what’s going well, use your ABE to spot the strengths you saw in other members. Did an employee use their bravery to explain the change to partners? Did a board member use their perseverance in advocating for the change? Did a manager use their zest to motivate their team throughout the change process? There are 24-character strengths at play whenever a change is occurring. Whatever character strength a person uses to support the change, celebrate them!
Why Does Systems Change Matter?
Systems change is built by engaging stakeholders with ideas, one another, the process. Encouraging adaptive thinking while sticking to a shared goal is what leads to innovation. Paying relentless attention to details, connecting the dots between them, communicating important milestones, and holding ourselves accountable to them are necessary components for whole-scale systems change. With these actions, we get what Madni noted above–predictable behavior, power, creative functionality, and that rarest of commodities–sustained change.
When all the elements come together (elegantly) in seamless change efforts, it is, indeed a beautiful thing to behold – a sublime and transformative experience for all involved, and well worth the effort. For those of us who may not get to experience a spectacular forest or roaring ocean on a regular basis, elegantly designed systems change can make it possible to appreciate beauty and excellence in our workplaces, communities, and beyond.
Contact Strong Cincinnati for Strengths-Based Organizational Consulting
If you’re working to create sustainable, transformational change in your organization, we’re here to help you! Our team of change-makers and consultants is dedicated to creating better places to work for all. Start a conversation with us to find out about our consultations on promoting positive culture shifts within organizations. Connect here or call us at 513-263-2210.