Managing On The Edge Of Chaos

by Jay Deragon on 08/06/2012

The primary goal of change agents are to initiate, facilitate, and support successful change efforts within an organization.

Organizational leaders traditionally use change agents to “stir up the status quo” in order to engage people in creative thinking. However, the stirring up can come back to bite change agents and the organizational leader if those threatened most by the change aim to undermine the efforts. Efforts to undermine change creates chaos.

Change becomes chaotic when employees see and hear two or more different change methods and messages. A leader may attempt to adopt new thinking supported by the influx of new knowledge while the behavior of management may be delivering a totally different message and the same old methods.  The newly empowered change agents (employees) equipped with new tools and new methods find themselves stuck in the middle of conflict between the new and the old methods and messages.  This conflict throws the organization off balance and into chaos.

Throwing an organization off balance could possibly send it in a downward spiral towards dissemination by ultimately compromising the relational integrity with employees, suppliers and customers to the point of no return. The only way to effectively manage chaos is for leadership and management to admit the dysfunction between the two or more methods and messages then unify efforts and intents.  By recognizing and admitting the chaos people are enabled to adjust to a state of existence which lies “on the edge of chaos”.

Being on the edge of chaos forces organizations to find new, creative ways to evolve and stay ahead (Learning). Good examples of such learning organizations are found throughout the field of technology as well as the airline industry, namely organizations such as Southwest Airlines, which used re-invention not just for survival, but also to prosper in an otherwise dismal market. In contrast, there are organizations which find themselves struggling for survival because they simply do not address nor manage the chaos created by the lack of knowledge and the need for change.

Organizations that are battling to stay alive must recognize the element of chaos created by disjointed change efforts and the lack of knowledge. Unless leadership and management are unified in methods and messages the people cannot effectively self-organization and manage the organization through chaos.

On the other side of chaos is transformation if the organization is led and managed with new knowledge. Knowledge without action is the accumulation of trivia. Leadership requires action. Action, however, must be managed.  That is why it is critical that leadership and management are on the same page. Otherwise managing on the edge of chaos will create stagnation and then decline.


Phil Jutras August 8, 2012 at 12:21 pm

Managers and employees often work in collectives, temporary and fixed groups. The conditions for change need to be stimulated and developed as part of strategy formation and execution. A degree of autonomy when accompanied by a sense of urgency and clarity about the future can create the hightened commitment to organizational change.
Creating these conditions is a reciprocal process as change leaders become responders and enablers to individuals and groups.

Rotkapchen August 7, 2012 at 9:47 am

“The primary goal of change agents are to initiate, facilitate, and support successful change efforts within an organization.”

There’s the first flawed premise. Everything in an organization is about change. There should be no change agents (having such makes for ‘subversive’ activities), simply efforts to facilitate change. Anything designated as a change agent is subjected to the natural laws of order and are expunged as a ‘foreign object’ — as well they should be.

That’s not to say the change isn’t needed. It’s that the approach, in many cases, simply does not honor where people currently are. There’s a ‘gap’ that has to be bridged. People have to see their way forward.

Margaret Wheatly spoke of the natural identity of an entity. A living thing has to learn its way forward from where it is — otherwise if it has to adopt a foreign identity, it in effect has to also adopt temporary adjustments that lead to schizophrenia (classic case, Sybil).

There are a whole lot of businesses operating in schizophrenia mode.

Virtual Offices August 6, 2012 at 5:11 am

Leading at the Edge of Chaos reflects the next wave of management thinking, which is learning to operate in a state of perpetual disturbance. This is really great share

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: