Organizational Changes Make Messes

Last week Mike Cottmeyer posted that People Are Messy. He gave an excellent example how two people approach and respond differently to change. I might choose different words to describe people. I definitely agree that change gets messy. Change starts getting messy when our change model doesn’t map to the reality we deal with.

Three Types of Change

Human Systems Dynamics posits three types of change: Static, Dynamic, and Dynamical.

I’ve summarized the differences in the types of change in this table. The descriptions come from HSD. I added the equations (for us math/engineer types) and the graphs of what the change might look like.

Name Description Equation(s) Looks Like
Static Static change is the simplest,being two-dimensional, it depends on direction and force. It is also predictable. Static change is about moving from Point A to Point B by applying force. axn+axn-1+…
+ c
Static Change
Dynamic Dynamic change is more complicated, being multi-dimensional. It can best be described as moving along a smooth trajectory toward a predictable end point. Like
water shooting out of a hose, if pressure and angle are known, you can predict height and distance of the arc of water.
axnbym + ax(n-1)by(m-1)
+ … + c
Dynamic Change
Dynamical Dynamical change is complex and results from multiple forces acting in unpredictable ways, generating surprising outcomes. Think about water dripping from a faucet. The rate of drops depend on too many factors to to predict, precisely, when each
drop will fall. The amount of deposit in the pipes; the temperature, wind, and humidity in the room; and the amount of water in the pipe interact in unpredictable ways to determine when drops will fall—non-predictable and maddening in the middle of the night.
dx/dt = σ (y – x)
dy/dt = x (ρ – z) – y
dz/dt = x y – β z
Dynamical Change

Let The Mess Begin!

So what happens? Some executive, somewhere, decides things need to change! People get assigned to new departments or teams. A new reporting structure gets defined. The charts are drawn, powerpoint slides created, and “all hands” sessions scheduled. (Using the Change… post, what model is management using?) The mess starts shortly after the meetings.

In my experience managers usually expect static change behavior. Start here. Go there. Done. You’re in a new team. We moved your equipment and materials to the new space. What’s the problem? Other than everyone having to work through the Change Model?

Some people will work through the Change Model quickly. But As Mike points out: “On many levels we are dealing with very personal deep seeded stuff… the stuff that anchors us as people and defines who we are in relation to the world.”

This means other people will respond in a Dynamical fashion.

And hence the mess. The mismatch between the change response expected and the change response in the domain.

Productivity goes lower than it needed to. People get labelled “resistors”. Malicious compliance might occur. Management pushes harder to make sure the change happens.

If the wheels don’t spin completely off the change, it could get sidetracked. Sometimes management declares success and moves to the next hot topic.


As a change artist, I’m pro-change. Change includes planning.

As a systems thinker, I’m pro-models. Models are neither naughty nor nice. They’re the simplification of the world we carry in our head that enable us to function.

As an engineer, I’m pro-reality. In this case I define reality as using data to determine if our models reflect what’s happening the domain.


What to Do?
If you’re planning or involved with a change:

  • Remember everyone goes through the Change Model. At different rates, but everyone goes through.
  • Be prepared for theFailure Paths.
  • Check your assumptions on the type of change you’re working with.

If you’re not sure what’s happening, you can engage a change artist to help.


The equations for the Lorenz attractor (the picture for dynamical change) came from
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lorenz_attractor. The picture of the Lorenz Attractor is from Wikimedia commons – Lorenz_Ro28-200px.png

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