Now We're in Chaos
by Rick Brenner
Among models of Change, the Satir Change Model has been especially useful for me. It describes how people and systems respond to change, and handles well situations like the one that affected us all on September Eleventh.
Everything changed on September Eleventh, and we're still learning the meaning of "everything." People working on projects, especially those that involve air travel, are now struggling with Change. Among models of Change, the Satir Change Model, developed by Virginia Satir, stands out for me as especially useful. It describes how we respond to change, using six elements:
- Old Status Quo
- The initial state of the system, before the change cycle begins. Example: September 10.
- Foreign Element
- The event, incident, or new information that disrupts the Old Status Quo. Example: the events of September 11.
- The state of confusion and disruption that persists following the recognition of the Foreign Element. Example: where we are now — we haven't yet adjusted to the new situation.
- Transforming Idea
- The realization or concept that takes us from Chaos toward a new way of operating. We probably don't yet have the Transforming Idea for the change cycle resulting from the events of September 11.
- Integration and Practice
The Chaos of change
can create stress,
- A period of assimilation of the Transforming Idea, when we practice ways of incorporating it into our operations.
- New Status Quo
- After we've integrated the Transforming Idea into our operations, a New Status Quo begins, in which we continue to enhance performance.
For many of us right now, after the Foreign Element that arrived on September 11, disruptions persist:
- Loss of key personnel, plant, equipment, and communications infrastructure
- Business disruption
- Unwillingness of staff to travel by air
- Restricted travel budgets
- Reductions in flight availability
- Increased inconvenience in traveling by air
These consequences become Foreign Elements themselves, with new change cycles of their own. The Satir Change Model provides a useful guide for dealing with them. I'll focus for now on Chaos, where most of us are right now.
- When in Chaos, acknowledge it
- Recognize that you're in Chaos, and that most people are under stress. Watch for signs of fatigue and erratic performance, and give people time to rest and to share their concerns. Use Temperature Readings to help people vent. See "Take Regular Temperature Readings," Point Lookout for August 29, 2001.
- Recognize the tug of Old Status Quo
- Chaos is uncomfortable. Many of us don't like it, and try to resurrect the Old Status Quo. Let go. Accept the change, and know that there's no going back. For example, if air travel now takes much longer, adjust project schedules — and employee compensation — accordingly.
- In Chaos, make no major decisions or commitments
- While we must make decisions, beware of making long-term decisions. When the Transforming Idea arrives, it will certainly provide better guidance than we now have. For example, avoid committing to a new project involving air travel.
- Watch for the Transforming Idea
- The Transforming Idea can come from anywhere — any level of your organization, even a competitor. Be open to ideas from all directions and all employees.
Chaos is not a bad thing. It just is. To manage through it, we must first accept it. Perhaps this is what Dorothy knew when, as she entered the Land of Oz for the first time, she said, "Toto, I have a feeling that we're not in Kansas anymore." Top Next Issue
For more on the Satir Change Model, see "Change How You Change," Point Lookout for March 20, 2002, and "Piling Change Upon Change: Management Credibility," Point Lookout for October 18, 2006. For other examples of the effects of change-driven Chaos, see "The True Costs of Cost-Cutting," Point Lookout for January 30, 2008.
Is your organization embroiled in Change? Are you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt? Read 101 Tips for Managing Change to learn how to survive, how to plan and how to execute change efforts to inspire real, passionate support. Order Now!
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See also Organizational Change for more related articles.
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