Resisting the Rush to Now What?

We have all seen or experienced a version of this story: the CEO leaves a company or an organization, creating the possibility of massive, potentially disruptive change, and our first reaction is, “Now what!?!”  But, for those of us who want to effectively manage constant change (i.e., life in the “real” world), we must work through the “Adaption Action” cycle of asking  What?  and  So what?  before we get to the Now what?

Almost by nature, people who confront a challenge want to talk immediately about the “solution.”  Talking about “why” any change is occurring can come across as assigning blame, and discussing “what’s happening” in an organization can make people feel vulnerable.  When I decided in the fall of 2012 to leave DC Vote after being the executive director for ten years, a few people reacted by saying, “We must find your replacement before the news becomes public.”  They wanted desperately to move to a solution and exert control--or at least give the public appearance of being in control--without thoroughly understanding the implications (the  So what? ) of my decision to leave.

This type of reaction, however, could jeopardize the essential need to ask first  What?  – "What do we see and where do we stand now as an organization?”  In the case of DC Vote, it was important for the organization to assess its strengths and weakness before trying to consider what would come next.

In fact, before devising a solution, the critical next step they needed to ask was  So what?  – "So what does this change mean?”  While some people skip the What? question, many more pass over an exploration of what a change means for them.  This phase of Adaptive Action calls for some serious critical thinking.  While it can be difficult, the payoff of this exploration is high because it can provide a richer understanding of how a solution reflects where your organization or company finds itself. Additionally you can identify specific tools or ideas that are needed to take advantage of clearly defined opportunities or to confront very specific challenges--and the people who can make that happen.  For DC Vote, such an exploration  lead to a conversation about congressional road blocks to achieving greater democracy for the District of Columbia and opportunities for action at the local level.  That conversation then lead to a clear description of DC Vote’s future work and the skills and experiences needed in the next executive director.  Thankfully, DC Vote took all these steps before searching for a new leader.

Once you pass through the first and second stages of Adaptive Action, you are finally ready to satisfy that initial urge to ask and figure out  Now what!?!  That's how you move to wise and informed action in the face of change and challenge.

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