Are You Still Trying To Drive Change?

When it comes to change a popular phrase in many organizations is the need to "drive change." It sounds like such a plausible idea, until you stop and think about the mindset it can possibly create within the people in the organization. If you are in management, the chance to drive change sounds appealing and almost powerful. If you are NOT in such a position, you may feel like a cattle drive is about to begin as you are driven to a place you may or may not want to go.

The idea of driving change can also make the path to better results seem oversimplified. At least in the United States, if you want to drive to a new destination, you get in your vehicle, start the engine, and follow a well-defined path to the new location. Change is rarely so easy to navigate, especially when people's attitudes, behaviors, and even hearts are involved.

I propose a new approach to this idea of change within organizations. The word isn't sexy and won't make a CEO look like a rock star when they say it, but the meaning behind the word holds great promise. The word...cultivate. For those of you agriculturally or horticulturally challenged, the word cultivate means to prepare the soil or break it up for planting and growing. Once something is established, cultivation is necessary to keep it growing and moving toward harvest... in this case the harvest being a successful change.

I'm not alone in my thoughts. In fact, way back in 1999, Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline, discussed the value of this approach when asked about always focusing on the need to change or driving change:

We keep bringing in mechanics — when what we need are gardeners. We keep trying to drive change — when what we need to do is cultivate change.

Senge goes on to highlight the advantage of such an approach:

It shifts profoundly how you think about leadership and change. If you use a machine lens, you get leaders who are trying to drive change through formal change programs. If you use a living-systems lens, you get leaders who approach change as if they were growing something, rather than just "changing" something.

So today, instead of getting out your wrench and making adjustments to the "machine" or attempting to force people to a place they may not be excited about going, why not try cultivating an environment where people are more positive about change. Take every opportunity to nurture those places where change is already growing and look for ways to remove obstacles or "weeds" to continued growth.

If you're responsible for change in your organization, maybe it's time to take a different approach. A world of possibilities awaits when you look at yourself as a gardener instead of a mechanic or a cowboy (or girl) on a cattle drive.