(abridged from The Change Handbook: The Definitive Resource on Today’s Best Methods for Engaging Whole Systems
by Peggy Holman, Tom Devane, and Steven Cady)
Whole system change methods continue to increase in recognition, variety, and use. The first edition of this book included 18 methods and just a few short years later, there are more than 60 methods in this second edition. This creative explosion provides great opportunities for reaching further into organizations and communities to engage people in making a positive and productive difference.
So, let’s say you need to make a change, you have looked at a variety of methods, and you come across this compendium of more than 60 organization development methods. Where do you start? What’s the difference between one method and another . . . how do you make sense of them all? How do you speak intelligently about them . . . helping clients, coworkers, employees, community members, stakeholders, leaders . . . understand the distinctions? WHAT DO YOU DO? This chapter defines seven characteristics to help you see the whole of the methods available to support your wor
Understanding Options: Seven Characteristics to Consider
Categorizing anything is tricky. On one hand, we strive to simplify our world with methods and models, categories, and taxonomies. On the other hand, simplification limits and potentially undermines the essential concepts we strive to better understand. Classification does not stand alone; it is a starting point for consideration. With elaboration and context, a fuller picture emerges. The frame- work that follows is one lens into that picture. Coupled with the information in the rest of the book, we believe you will have what you need to make sound choices regarding which method(s) can best help you.
In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, the cat said, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” Purpose ensures we go somewhere intentional. It answers the questions: What is the focus and aim of our work? What methods are designed to do this? We identified five overarching dimensions of purpose. Planning, structuring, and improving describe processes designed to accomplish a specific purpose. Adaptable methods span these purposes. Supportive processes enhance the work, whatever its purpose.
Type of System
Who do these methods help? What kinds of people are coming together? How might we think of the system undergoing the change? A simple and useful distinction is organizations and communities.
Most of the methods employ one or a series of events along the change journey. Though they all focus on whole systems, some engage large numbers of participants at one time, while others involve smaller numbers over time. Still others use technology to bring people together across time and space. What best serves your situation? Size has many implications, both strategic and practical. Do we involve the whole system or a meaningful subset? What facilities do we need? How many people do we include? What are the potential costs per person and how much can we afford? It’s a tough balance to include as much of the system as you can while dealing with the constraints of space, time, and cost.
When determining what process to use, time is always a factor. What is the sense of urgency? What sort of pace can the organization or community assimilate? What is possible in terms of how frequently people gather? Whatever the nature of the process, it requires time for preparation, for event(s), and for follow-up. This is often tough to characterize because it is 18 navigating through the methods the big picture 19 highly dependent on the complexity of the initiative. The contributing authors have given us a range based on how their process is typically used.
Some methods have a natural beginning and ending. Others are suited for a periodic planning cycle, and some become “the way things are done around here.” We have identified the following cycles:
People often ask, “How quickly can I get started with using this method on my own?” Some methods are deceptively simple to “just do,” yet there is art and nuance to mastering them over time. Mastery of virtually any process is a lifetime’s work. The more complex the change effort, the more advisable it is to get skilled change management support. Still, knowing what’s involved to prepare new practitioners provides insight into how quickly and broadly change can spread. Here are the distinctions we offer for getting started as a new practitioner:
Selected Change Methods (from Change Methods Handbook table of contents)
See complete Change Methods books from Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
Appreciative Inquiry article with selected AI books from Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
Organizational Development article with selected OD books from Berrett-Koehler Publishers.