When Your Past Success Becomes an Obstacle

change-same-switchThere are two kinds of change — incremental and discontinuous — that are taking place simultaneously and constantly in today’s business organizations. Incremental change is the process of continuous improvement — what the Japanese refer to as “kaizen.”  Discontinuous change is the kind of large-scale transformation that turns organizations inside out and upside down.

Incremental change fits the Newtonian framework of a linear, progressive and predictable world. There is an unmistakable logic behind incremental change that makes it easy to communicate and relatively easy for people to adopt because it uses current practices as a baseline for the systematic improvement of a product, service or system. And we human beings like that. We can base our future success on our past performance.

But much of the change our organizations are facing today is not incremental. It is discontinuous. And, if leading incremental change can be compared to encouraging a group of joggers to gradually pick up the pace, then leading discontinuous change is like encouraging those same joggers to leap off a cliff and build their parachutes on the way down. Discontinuous change — restructuring, re-engineering, transformation, etc. — challenges our most deeply held beliefs about the past. It confronts the entire organization with the possibility that the very roles, actions and attitudes that were most responsible for past success will be insufficient, and perhaps even detrimental in the future. That concept is harder to communicate and much harder for people to adopt. We don’t like to contemplate letting go of the skills and behaviors that “got us here.” That’s understandable, that’s basic human psychology — it’s just not an attitude that helps an enterprise move forward.

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Carol Kinsey Goman

Carol Kinsey Goman

Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D., president of Kinsey Consulting Services, is a keynote speaker, executive coach, and leadership consultant. Clients include 105 organizations in 24 countries. Carol is a leadership contributor for Forbes and the Washington Post. She has authored eleven books. Her latest book is The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help or Hurt How You Lead. A leading authority on leadership, change-management, collaboration, and body language in the workplace, Carol has been cited in media such as The Wall Street Journal, Industry Week, Investor's Business Daily, CNN's Business Unusual, SmartBrief on Leadership, Executive Excellence, Oprah.com, NPR's Marketplace, Fox News, and the NBC Nightly News. Carol has served as adjunct faculty at John F. Kennedy University in the International MBA program, at U.C. Berkeley in the Executive Education Department, for the Chamber of Commerce of the United States at their Institutes for Organization Management and is a current faculty member with the Institute for Management Studies.

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