Significant changes often begin long before they are visible. Inside the egg, the chick is silently growing and changing. The first cracks before hatching seem like the start of something big -- but the big thing has already been underway.
There's a wonderful piece in Strategy + Business this month by Skip Griffin Jr., who tells the story of the American Civil Rights movement as a transformation project: Beauty Parlors, Barbershops, and Boardrooms. [Free registration required]
Griffin acknowledges the leadership of Martin Luther King Jr., but places it in a context of the twenty years that came before King's famous speeches. Griffin says, "Many people think of the civil rights movement as a wave of change sparked by a few charismatic leaders", but in fact it was not spontaneous, and was built by deliberate effort by a large number of people over a long period:
"By the time Rosa Parks's feet got tired, a large field of conversational energy was already in place"
Griffin, who now helps people and organizations with transformational changes, says that to understand a change, you need to understand "the parts that are less visible: the deep, profound patterns of activity under the surface".
His conclusion, in terms of corporate transformation projects:
"It's not just the structures that have to change. And it's not just the culture out there in the organization. It's the culture in here, in ourselves, as well -- the culture that leads us up to the threshold, and then, if we're ready, give us the courage to step across."
His words reminded me of a metaphor used by Jim Collins in Good to Great. Collins says we tend to hail improved corporate results as being the result of some recent, short-term initiative, rather than the culmination of a long process of getting many things right.
I don't believe we can actually make people and organizations change. They change themselves. When the time is right, we can make the hatching easier. We can sometimes help the fertilization process. But there is no real way to rush the embryo into being a chick.
Acknowledgements: the image above was created using photos from Dreamstime