Positive change doesn’t just happen at the flip of a switch—it requires a fundamental shift in mindset

By Alison Szetho | June 18, 2020

As businesses and individuals, we’re all experiencing significant changes right now. Changes to the way we work each day with colleagues and with our supply chains, clients, and customers, and changes to the way we do business as a whole. Many organizations are quickly realizing that an important part of building more resilient businesses involves changing our attitudes and approaches to change itself.

We’re all familiar with the adage from Greek philosopher Heraclitus: the only constant in life is change. The words seem particularly poignant at this moment in time. Yet fully embracing and internalizing this notion is something that many organizations have yet to master. Managing change successfully is more than just a series of steps. It requires a fundamental shift in mindset.

What is positive change?

The first distinction we ought to make is that there’s a difference between change and positive change. 

The Oxford English Dictionary defines change as both a verb and a noun that means “making or becoming different.” Positive change goes one step further. It pinpoints a quality of change that leads us to consider the guiding reasons for making one. 

Positive change asks us to step back and consider: what are the business benefits of the change? How does the change align with our company values? How is this change going to have a positive impact on the organization?

Taking the time to think about and answer these questions honestly and thoroughly establishes a solid foundation upon which the key stages of organizational change management can occur. Adopting a guiding set of principles for positive change makes it much more likely that a proposed change initiative will be successful–i.e., will serve the business and its people well in accordance with the organization’s goals, values, vision, and mission.

The four guiding principles of positive change

For organizations and teams that are used to a highly technical approach to problem solving, grasping the tangible usefulness of a positive change mindset can be challenging. The four guiding principles of positive change help anchor this mindset in practical thinking.

  1. The energy principle: the energy needed for positive change can’t be created, it can only be reallocated. Organizations have a finite amount of energy that they can direct toward any given initiative. The purpose of a successful mindset shift is to influence the organization and its people to use their energy to create positive, sustainable changes to how the organization and people behave.
  2. The business principle: positive change must be directed by business goals, objectives, and a strategy toward achieving full potential. Without goals and objectives, it’s difficult to articulate what the organization is trying to achieve and difficult to communicate the compelling need for change. Proper high-level direction ensures the change is aimed at helping the organization reach its full potential and maximizes the success of its implementation. And at the very core, enables a measure of the impact of the work to determine if it was indeed a success.
  3. The people principle: the impact of change on people is entirely dependent on their subjective experience. Change is always experienced by individuals based on their own reality and the degree of disruption to their own expectations, not the magnitude of the change itself from any objective perspective. Perception is nine-tenths of the equation, which is why change programs need to take into account the broader context in which the change is happening, not just the specific context of the initiative. Change will impact people differently and sometimes in unanticipated ways. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach—different approaches and techniques will need to be deployed for what seems like a single problem in order to maximize adoption across the entire organization.
  4. The approach principle: change needs to solve the right problem at the right level and must be integrated into a total business transformation. Achieving successful positive change relies on the people and behaviors that underpin it. Solving a people problem or capturing a behavioral improvement opportunity is no different from any other problem or opportunity. The same rigor of problem solving needs to be applied. Positive change doesn’t comprise a separate set of activities that can be delegated to a separate set of resources. It needs to be built into every aspect of the transformation across the organization: process, technology, leadership, management, and organizational structure.

These guiding principles can help your leadership team and your organization as a whole adopt the right mindset for positive change. It’s not just rhetoric. It’s a necessary prerequisite for strategizing, planning, and executing a successful change program.

How to apply a positive change mindset

Once an organization has internalized a positive change mindset, it’s time to move ahead with identifying and defining the problem, the change that needs to be implemented to solve it, and conducting a change readiness assessment to determine the gap between current and future readiness for change. Stay tuned for more articles related to why a change readiness assessment is important and how to do it properly.