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Unconstrained Thinking
-- Break Rules to Make Rules

How successful was the last significant change you made? Did it achieve everything you expected it to?

Unless a change is of a huge, revolutionary magnitude that renders the environment unrecognizable, it has to co-exist with much of the old environment. Operating environments are made up of policies, measurements and procedures, otherwise known as “rules.” These rules are often deeply embedded in the organizational psyche. Behaviors and politics are usually based on them, and those who are successful are so based on their ability to work within these rules.

A change comes with its own set of rules. One source of “resistance to change” can be based in the system rejecting, or at least modifying, these new rules in an effort to fit old experience and expertise to the new way of doing things. If expectations for the change are based on the new rules, and if these rules are compromised, then the outcome will as well.

To avoid this situation, effective change management can provide two opportunities in which the old policies can be identified and addressed. First, in determining “what to change,” the understanding of what leads to the undesirable effects of an old system can and should include the cause-and-effect relationships of the old rules that lead to or perpetuate those targets of a proposed change. If they are understood as part of the old reality, then they can easily be dealt with in the new.

Even if they slip through the initial strategy for the change, they will probably surface again in stakeholders’ responses to the proposed change in the form of either concerns or obstacles. Any change agent worth his/her salt will embrace these reactions and analyze the source of them. Nine times out of ten, that “resistance” will probably be based, at least in part, in the conflict of old and new rules. If, after analysis, you still want the new rules to prevail, then the old ones (or at least the conflict) will have to be broken.

©2001, Frank Patrick

The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there - L. P. Hartly

This is one of a series of columns on improvement, TOC, constraint management, change management, systems thinking, uncommon sense, and whatever else comes into my mind. Suggestions for topics are welcome. - FP, 908-874-8664 or via the contact page of this site.

If you are interested in using these 1/2-page columns for your APICS, ASQ, or IIE newsletter, let me know through the same channels, and I'll send you the more easily usable MS Word versions.

-- Frank Patrick


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