One of the uncomfortable truths about exercise, I’m discovering, is that change requires changing. Until I convince my body that it’s really going to need to do something different, it’s not wasting any time on building strength I’m unlikely to use. I’m already regretting this analogy, but to bring it in for a landing – my daily jog to work over the last year was a predictable lumbering towards business as usual. I felt virtuous, but nothing happened.
A professional convinced me to switch it up with a visually unfortunate mix of skipping, jumping, resting and recovering. The aggregate energy output was the same, but my body was shocked into responding. Suddenly I had entered the space of possibility. And suddenly I could lift up my well-fed toddler without hurting either of us. If I want to be able to continue to do so, it’s clear I can’t go back to the same predictable movements.
Organizational change is not that different. Firms are smart organisms that won’t go to the trouble to adapt unless something new really is required of them. Take your team off-site and encourage them to behave differently – to get crazy and creative in an organization built for head-down execution — and chances are good that they’ll do it. For that day. But send them back to the same job design, performance metrics and culture, and the sparks of innovation you saw on that ropes course will be quickly snuffed out.
Like service excellence, organizational change is the logical output of a system designed to produce it. When off-sites are linked to larger, systematic change processes, they can be great ways to introduce or reinforce new rules of engagement. When they’re a once-a-year yoga class designed to break your organization’s treadmill habit, very little is likely to happen.
Ok, no more body metaphors. Ever again.