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Different worldviews hamper organisational change

Kevin Liebenberg
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Business leaders have a never-ending mandate to drive positive change in the organisations they lead. They're often daunted by the task of effecting change among their people. This is understandable. Everyone reacts to change differently, which makes it very difficult to tackle change management. There is plenty of evidence that shows that most efforts to initiate change within organisations fail. So what do differing worldviews have to do with this?

Business leaders have a never-ending mandate to drive positive change in the organisations they lead. They're often daunted by the task of effecting change among their people. This is understandable. Everyone reacts to change differently, which makes it very difficult to tackle change management. So what do differing worldviews have to do with this?

The starting point is to understand the challenge. People all have different structures of interpretation that cause them to see things differently from one another – and to therefore respond to requests for organisational change differently.

The philosopher and psychologist Will McWhinney says that any change effort triggers conflict and that the conflict, in most cases, eventually destroys the change effort. This is why change management is so necessary. The effort ultimately leaves the situation more messy and complex than it was before.

According to McWhinney, this happens because people differ from one another on a far deeper level than just race, culture, language and gender. To simplify this exploration, he used a Jungian construct to hypothesise that people tend to look at life from four dominant positions:

  • Unitary,
  • Sensory,
  • Social, or
  • Mythic

The 'unitary' worldview is supported by people who see the world in terms of rules, adherence and policies. To capture the emotions of these people, one must use models, policies and 'laws'. These people know the 'truth' and expect others to live by it.

The 'sensory' worldview is the world of 'seeing-is-believing'. This worldview is dominated by the senses, science and commerce. You must show these people - in an 'objective', data-based way - what the benefits of the change will be.

The 'social' worldview is a humanistic perspective. These people are concerned with the feelings and values of others. Fairness is a core component, and moral and ethical questions are paramount.

The 'mythic' worldview is one of story, symbol and myth. These people need their imaginations extended beyond the limits of what currently exists. They thrive on inspiration to support the dream of a better world.

The position that people adopt is mostly determined by how they view change

It's also determined by what they'd like to see happening after the change. For example, some people believe that change is, to a large extent, caused by external factors such as economies, other people, or even God. McWhinney labelled these thinkers 'determinists'.

With regards to the preferred outcome of change, McWhinney identified two groups of people:

  • Those who want the change effort to produce different actions and behaviour (termed 'pluralists'), and
  • Those who expect the change effort to produce more sameness, integration, cooperation, shared vision and values. He called this group the 'monists'.

McWhinney then combined all these distinctions to establish four core perspectives or worldviews:

  • Deterministic-monistic (unitary),
  • Deterministic-pluralistic (sensory),
  • Freedom-monistic (mythic), and
  • Freedom-pluralistic (social).

He posited that all people have a preference for one of these worldviews, and this has powerful implications for how people approach conflict, how they handle relationships and what data one should include in the communication elements around the change to influence them.

This is critical to understand when communicating change efforts, bearing in mind that any successful change management strategy should accommodate as many of these perspectives/worldviews as possible.

As a leader, the challenge is to find a way to accommodate all of these worldviews and incorporate them into your strategy. If conflict arises, it helps to be aware of your own preferred way of looking at things as this will provide insight into any clash of worldviews.


Author: Kevin Liebenberg is the director of Actuate - internal marketing specialists.

Kevin has been endorsed for his expertise in marketing strategy, business strategy, coaching, banking, leadership development, change management, organisational development and executive coaching.

 



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