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The art of progress is to preserve order amid change and to preserve change amid order.

Alfred North Whitehead


For leaders, implementing major change is quite the high wire act…

Under weighting the urgency and magnitude of the changes risks toppling back over to current convention.  The culture,  the current ways of working, current processes, and current procedures have a palpable gravitational pull that tips us back to the comfortable status quo.

But over weighting can overwhelm.  Just as each of us as individuals have a threshold, so do organizations; driving major change beyond the capacity of the organization to adapt freezes the action.  We shut down.  Immobilized.

Both the status quo as well as organizational immobilization leads to quite a fall when real change is a competitive imperative.

So, as if walking the high wire, change leaders must find the right balance, with every step.  The art of progress involves counterbalancing — preserving order amid change; preserving change amid order.

Preserving order amid change provides us with a steadiness to process the inevitable losses that come with major change — coworker relationships; comfortable routines, known responsibilities.  I think preserving order amid change means emphasizing what is not changing while articulating what is changing.  I think it means signaling a supreme confidence that the organization will prevail and thrive in the future state.  I think it means increasing the frequency of communications and feedback so we can use it to continually rebalance.  So while we might feel yet a bit unstable, we don’t feel helpless.  Though yet uneasy; hopeful.  We can proceed.  We will progress.  Another step; another step.

Preserving change amid order ensures we can keep stepping into the future.  Articulating the change vision, with increasing detail to connect everyone’s role and contribution to the future state, promotes forward momentum.  The old way of doing things starts to fade, but the new way doesn’t yet feel comfortable.  The change theorists call this the neutral zone.  I think it’s far from neutral; it’s no man’s land.  No one wants to be in no man’s land; but when there is no going back, there is only going forward.  Another step; another step.

But why the art of progress?  I think Mr. Whitehead sees the challenge as fundamentally involving exquisite sensitivity and feel.

Much like walking the high wire?