Change fitness follows a normal distribution, like many other aspects of our world. This means the average person has an average amount of change fitness. A small percentage of the population has lots of it and a small percentage of the population has very little of it.
I argue that change fitness is acquired via learning. This means there must be some force in a community that limits excessive amounts and very low levels of change fitness. What could that force be?
In my view, that force is culture. Cultures tend to be conservative. Culture emerges from human societies and communities. No one person creates it but everyone is influenced by it and contributes to it.
What are the benefits of culture?
- Culture stores knowledge. In earlier ages, it may have been possible for one person to possess most of the knowledge held by the community. But that is no longer possible. Today, most knowledge is embedded in culture and cultural artefacts – like books, the internet, and other electronic storage systems.
- Culture sets norms. The ancient Greeks had a word for a state without a guiding ruler – ‘anarchon’, from which we get the word anarchy. Culture is a guiding influence over how people act and behave. It sets cultural norms and expectations about what is right and what should be avoided.
- Culture minimises risk. Most people adhere to a low-risk policy. We drive on the nominated side of the road because it is dangerous to do otherwise. We adhere to company policy because we want to keep our jobs. We study for tests because we want to pass. This is also why many people fear change – changes bring the risk of the unknown and the risk of failure. Here’s the point – cultures generally favour low-risk options. We create laws and standards to minimise risky behaviour.
- Culture promotes stability. Most of the time, low-risk policies deliver a substantial benefit – stability. When the environment is stable, we are more able to predict the future and control the present.
In stable environments, an average amount of change fitness is a good fit. We don’t want change fitness levels to be too low such that people become change fatigued and resistant, but we don’t want them so high the culture becomes unstable.
But this policy only holds when cultures and communities are stable. Recently, we have seen a degree of instability thrown into the mix – the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and the powerful emergence of AI. People have and will adapt to these destabilising forces, but at what cost? People who thrive on change may have benefited from this instability, seeing new opportunities emerge. But for many others, mental health has plummeted.
I argue that in volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous settings like we have today, we need more change fitness not less. The organisations likely to thrive in current time are ones with highly change-fit people, teams, cultures, and strategic adaptability. We need to think of this in three dimensions:
- We need higher levels of change fitness across the workforce, so people are more capable of adapting and managing their own change process. This will lower stress levels, improve well-being, and improve engagement and performance.
- Change fitness needs to be more distributed throughout the workplace so that all aspects of leadership and operations are more able to adapt.
- Stronger connections need to be made with people who have high levels of change fitness. We need to facilitate social learning in the workplace to promote greater levels of adaptability.
We have the theory, practice, and tools to make this a reality in your organisation. Your job is to consider how effective and sustainable your organisation needs to be in the context of the modern world. Feel free to reach out to me if you need some help.