“They don’t have a choice the change is mandated.”
That is a statement I have heard many leaders say especially over the past few months. It reminded me of a question I am asked often: What do you do to manage the change when it’s mandated?
On the surface, mandating a change appears easy. You identify a solution to the problem, make a decision and announce the change.
Not quite, let’s take a closer look because the reality is you can’t mandate long-term sustainable change.
To explore what I mean when I say you can’t mandate change, it’s helpful to understand the two dimensions of change. The Event and the White Space.
The Event dimension of change is a situation or a decision that triggers the desire or need for change. For example, the decision to implement a new computer system, or create a hybrid working environment, or a shift in the market that triggers the need to pivot to a new business model.
But the decision or event that triggered the need or desire for something different, doesn’t mean that people will automatically adopt the new activities and behaviours. Whether you achieve your desired outcome depends on the second dimension of change. That is the Whitespace.
The Whitespace is that space between where you are before the event and where you or your team needs to be to achieve the desired outcome of the change event.
Unlike the event dimension of change, which is concrete, finite and tangible, the Whitespace is personal, context-sensitive, and intangible. And it’s in this space where we turn our understanding, perception, and beliefs about the event into action. Actions that move us toward the new intended outcome or the actions that protect and maintain the current state.
Mandating Change is Not Enough for Real Change
These two dimensions are like an iceberg. The Event dimension is the portion of the iceberg that floats above the waterline. The Whitespace is that larger and more dangerous portion of the iceberg below the waterline.
When you mandate a change, you are simply defining or announcing a change event. Whether any real change occurs, that is people adopt the new activities and behaviours, depends on what happens next.
That’s because after a change is announced or an event has occurred, the people affected make a choice about how they will navigate Whitespace. Sustainable and real change can’t happen until the people affected decide to take the actions needed to adopt the activities and behaviours of the new environment.
Successful change leaders balance the activities needed to support the change event with the actions necessary to prepare and enable people to navigate the Whitespace.
Remember when it comes to change; all you can really mandate is the change event.
If you’re looking for help on getting your team or organization ready for change, reach out. I’d be happy to have a conversation.