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What revolutions can teach us about change

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What revolutions can teach us about change

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There is a revolutionary zeal to much of the social business movement, with advocates leading a charge towards the death of the industrial era model of organization towards something altogether more social and engaging.  Suffice to say, such a shift is no small undertaking, attempting to change as it is over a century’s worth of traditions and cultures.

It kind of brings to mind the famous quote by Joseph Ortega y Gasset in his book The Revolt of the Masses

Man has been able to grow enthusiastic over his vision of unconvincing enterprises.  He has put himself to work for the sake of an idea, seeking by magnificent exertions to arrive at the incredible.  And in the end, he has arrived there.  Beyond all doubt it is one of the vital sources of man’s power, to be thus able to kindle enthusiasm from the mere glimmer of something improbable, difficult, remote

Ortega went on to proclaim the huge importance of the masses in instigating any change in behaviour.  He suggested that no change will arrive because an expert or authority suggest it, but rather because the masses decide en mass to do things differently.

Whether it’s a government or management, it is impossible to develop those who are governed or managed.  Rather, the only option available to them is to encourage and facilitate the self development efforts of those employees.  This in itself will be impossible unless those same employees are invested in the need to change and evolve, as such development requires a degree of effort that only the committed will afford.

Typically, this kind of mobilisation of the masses is sparked by fighting against something, ie a rival, or striving towards something.  It’s much more common to see negatively orientated revolutions, especially when directed against an external threat.  Of course, by the time this threat is sufficiently dangerous, it can often be too late to affect the change required.

Whilst a major crisis has an emotional attraction, what is really needed is a sense that the status quo is not delivering what is needed for the organization.  This dissatisfaction with the current norm has to be delivered not just on an intellectual level, but on an emotional one.  It will jolt employees out of the auto-pilot they may be operating on and cause them to look afresh at what they do and why they do it.

Here are a few steps you can take before things reach crisis point, that might still galvanize employees.

  1. Look for evidence that a crisis is both looming and inevitable if you maintain your current course
  2. Make sure that this looming crisis is a credible one
  3. Use simple and clear messages to communicate this crisis
  4. Create a vision for employees that provokes an emotional reaction
  5. Offer up your plan on how to resolve the pending crisis
  6. Ensure that your senior team is committed to the change
  7. Both expect resistance to your plan, and have steps to overcome that resistance

Hopefully, if you can adopt some of these tips, you can sufficiently mobilize the masses without requiring that crisis to fully emerge.

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