Deep Change – The alternative is Slow Death

We are just getting started in our journey to discover deep change in an effort to embark on complete organizational change. Deep Change is the choice we must make in order to avoid the alternative which is slow death. Slow death sounds kind of depressing doesn’t it? Well it is!  And yet that is what is happening to many people in all walks of life. Unfortunately, I think we are afraid to call it for what it is and in doing so we are denying that it exists.

So what is it exactly? It is the process that happens when we look around our organization and we see things that need to be done but for a variety of reasons we either look the other way, trivialize the magnitude of it or feel that it is someone else’s job to fix it; so we just continue to let “that thing” that we see fester and grow. But it is growing in the opposite direction of life, it is decaying and becoming something that lacks the zest for life.

The beginning of slow death.

The beginning of slow death.

You know “the things” that I am talking about. They are going on all around us. Here are just a few that I have seen recently…

  • I attended a meeting at an organization. There was no agenda, the people attending the meeting didn’t really know why they were there, and no one volunteered ideas or asked questions. They dutifully sat there until the end of the meeting and then everyone slowly gathered their things and went on to the next task of the day.
  • I walked down the hallway of another organization. The people passing me shuffled past me and barely made eye contact and definitely did not acknowledge my presence.
  • I inquired about why a certain report was being run every day and what leaders were doing with that report. The response was, “The big boss wants it run- so we run it. But we really don’t do anything with it.”
  • I listened to a few recorded phone calls with some leaders and then I inquired about the employees’ word choice with the customers and if anyone thought that the particular word choice sounded rude or abrupt. All the leaders agreed that it did but I was reassured that she would be retiring within the next two years and that is the way she has always sounded with the customers. That’s just who she is.

So this is my short list of what I have experienced in the last few months. What do you see going on around your organization that signals complacency, throwing in the towel, helplessness or just plain apathy?

These are the beginning steps to slow death that requires deep change as Quinn describes it. “Deep change requires discipline, courage, and motivation. We would rather experience the pain of slow death than the threat of changing ourself” (Quinn, 1996, p. 24).  As leaders, we have a responsibility to do more than just show up every day, we have the privilege of impacting the situation around us to help move the organization out of this spiraling downhill slide. But it starts by changing ourselves, because by sitting by and watching these things happen around us, we have been like one of the trees in the decaying forest. We have allowed the system to suck the life out of us and so now we need to be the one who breathes some kind of life back into the system.

Some people reading this may be thinking, “Well, that’s not my job. I’m not responsible for breathing life back into the whole system”. This is exactly the leadership perspective that perpetuates the cycle of slow death. Your sphere of influence may not be the same as someone else’s, but you still have a sphere in which to operate. It is our job as leaders to exercise our power of influence. The next time that a meeting is coming up and you know from past experience that it is going to be one of those unproductive meetings, ask the facilitator of the meeting if you can help by creating an agenda. BUT THAT MEANS MORE WORK!

YES, IT DOES MEAN WORK! Are you ready for the challenge, or are you going to continue to perpetuate the cycle of nothing changing? We’re not talking about moving mountains (not yet, at least).  Here are some examples of what I am talking about…

  • The next time you see one of “those” grumpy people, reach out and say hello and ask if he/she is alright.
  • The next time you are in a meeting and no one has anything to add, come to the meeting prepared to add a nugget of knowledge.
  • The next time that your boss asks you to run a report that you really don’t think is getting the right results, ask a few questions as to what your leader really wants to know or is looking to accomplish.
  • The next time you see someone carrying a heavy load, offer to lift a part of that load. Not because you have to, but because you want to.

Organizational change begins by changing our behaviors, one at a time. “To turn this situation around, for the healing process to begin, people must engage in deep personal change- change that will only occur when people take active charge of their own lives” (Quinn, 1996, p. 21).

What are you doing today to take active charge of being a leader?

I would love to hear your ideas.  What are you deliberately planning to do today that will begin to systemically change the environment around you- one behavior at a time?

Quinn, R. E. (1996). Deep Change. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.





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