April 14, 2009

"Pre-Planning" or "Readiness"

We were in a learning session the other day and I was amused when I heard Marianne Hughes, our Executive Director at the Interaction Institute for Social Change, refer to “back when it was still ok to talk about planning…” I appreciated her currency in the field, as well as the decades of experience she is able to bring to the table. Marianne was talking about how important it was to apply a “pre-planning phase” to any organizational change process. What I specially appreciated was her call for an equivalent moment in group process as we are coming to understand it today, what she called a “readiness” phase.

What is important here is that as paradigms shift we are not just playing around with language but we are actually learning to look at the world with an entirely different lens. I forget who it was that said “strategic planning is obsolete, what we need is strategic thinking.” This to me is a lot like what Marianne was saying, understanding the state of a group that is clamoring for change is not exactly pre-planning, it is actually testing for readiness. When I hear “pre-planning” I get right into linear thinking, and it feels like linear thinking is actually a limitation for groups that want to deal with complexity.

“Readiness” on the other hand seems to be testing for something else. In my experience, testing for readiness must include the skillful probing into a group’s interest or capacity to engage an “adaptive challenge.” And here I’m using the language of Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky who skillfully make the distinction between technical problems and those challenges that demand a shift at the level of values, beliefs and assumptions. It seems to me that a “pre-planning phase” can serve to solve a technical problem, but an adaptive challenge demands organizational readiness.

One of my key learning edge questions is found somewhere around here. I have a core interest in helping people and groups of people shift out of what I call the “dominant-and-dying paradigm” into what I see as the “emergent paradigm.” I am passionate about this specifically because the dominant paradigm has calcified while this emergent paradigm seems to have potentially liberating attributes. Certainly there is much more to explore here, but I’m currently highlighting a key question – how do we test for readiness?

How do we know a group is ready to make a shift at the level of values, beliefs and assumptions?

And if a group is not ready, is there any way we can help?

Any ideas?