Over the past two decades, I found myself involved in numerous organizational transformations of various magnitudes. My role in these transformations evolved from hands-on to strategic, and they happened across multiple regions and with a wide variety of cultural backgrounds.
One thing that stayed consistent is the focus and energy required to get things moving and the degree of resistance expressed in the systems that were invited to change.
Reflecting on these exciting, challenging, and prosperous times, I can only see the growth opportunities they brought. I also wonder how different these moments would have been if I had known to manage polarities the way I do now.
When I speak of polarity, I mean an Interdependent pair of values or strengths that are both needed overtime for a healthy, thriving self or organizational system. You can imagine that in the numerous agile transformations i was involved in, we were required to navigate many of these polarities. Examples such as keeping the “savoir faire” and adopting new ways of working, or leveraging on proven technology or innovating and many more. As I reflect today, it feels obvious to me that these were polarities to manage and not a problem to solve. However, in all honesty, I looked at them as problems to solve back in those days.
Here are some key elements to consider:
Pay attention to key stakeholders and their potential polarities
Recently, a friend that is leading significant changes in her organization told me that the CEO of the organization is asking the organization to transform drastically, and yet it feels he may not be so keen to transform himself. I can relate to that in some of the transformations I was involved with. When looked at as a problem to solve, a need to convince key stakeholders to embrace the change will create a lot of tension and potential resistance for myself and others. Looking at this situation using a polarity lens can drastically reduce the tension and offer many opportunities to support the change. I believe exploring and helping key stakeholders navigate their individual polarities is essential for a successful organizational transformation.
Include all perspectives
Often, when I joined organizations that were willing to become more agile, there was a sense of speed. We needed to transform within a set amount of time. That generated a lot of focus and energy towards the change of course, and at the same time, create a sense of urgency to move from A to B and remove all sources of resistance as quickly as possible. From a polarity lens point of view, doing so is like looking at half the transformation equation. Silencing the resistant voices is like ignoring valuable perspectives for a healthy system. I can see myself, back in the day, iterating on strategic plans, communications plans and rolling out programs that were only focused on half the equation.
Take the example of communication plans that often accompany transformation strategies. These plans are usually written in a way that aims to convince people that B is better than A and that moving away from A is the solution. These plans tend to require many iterations, and a tremendous effort spent making the vision for B as straightforward as possible. It is, unfortunately, often at the expense of the smaller voices in the organization that are still seeing value in A. This, in turn, can amplify the resistance to the change.
Let polarities do the heavy lifting
With what I understand now about navigating polarities, no wonder they felt so energy consuming. Ignoring the power of polarity and focusing on either side of it has a very predictable outcome. This is when organizations feel stuck or invest a significant amount in a transformation to reverting back a few years later.
Understanding that there are polarities to manage in a transformation, is the first step in harnessing the power that lives in them. Learning to leverage and navigate is a powerful way to transform meaningfully and create resilience in an organization.
I truly believe that organizations that are engaging in transformations, and that are willing to be more agile in today’s, particularly uncertain context, need to be led by people deeply connected to the polarities they are navigating. I feel that is especially true for those organizations that are willing to have a positive impact on the people, society and environment. I feel it cannot be seen as a problem to solve and more as harnessing the polarities offered to us.
We will conduct several public and in-house Polarity Wisdom workshops in 2023; feel free to contact me or book a time with me. I will be very happy to answer your questions about polarities in general, about a polarity you are currently navigating or learn more about what programs we offer around polarities.