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  • Nick Smith

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together


The days are getting longer, bulbs are poking through, and lambing isn’t far off: all signs of seasons changing. 21st Century urban living may distance us from seasonal rhythms compared to our ancestors and rural cousins, but our lives are still full of other rhythms. They shape our behaviours at many levels: our bodies work with daily circadian rhythms and monthly cycles – we even have preferred rhythms for tapping our fingers[1]. We take summer holidays, winter skiing breaks, and celebrate in midwinter. For many, spiritual or religious calendars and associated practices play a major role in giving structure to our years.

Experience, and social and neuro-sciences tell us that rhythmic living rhythm good for us. We benefit from rhythms of activity and stillness; of engagement and contemplation; and of feast and fast. We’re probably increasingly aware of this. Certainly the growth in mindfulness practices and of services helping us connect to seasons and rhythms of life would suggest so. Holidays, retreats, self-help guides abound. And if there’s a common theme, it’s that we can't live our lives continuously at full speed: we need to have periods – within our days and years, when we slow down. Otherwise burn-out and a range of physical and / or mental health pressures are likely to come to the fore.

So far, so good – nothing novel. But can this connect with Business Change, and if so how? There’s no doubt that businesses get the idea of rhythm at operational and strategic levels[2]. There are meeting cadences; cyclic monthly reporting processes; quarterly targets with accelerated efforts at quarter and year end; and annual planning and execution cycles. In some industries in the UK (eg utilities, rail) there are five year cycles too. Whether intended or not, these establish and reinforce working patterns: the late nights to get the strategic plan completed for quarterly or annual review; the end of year push to clear backlogs; the end of budget cycle increases in procurement to avoid losing funds. And accompanying every period of greater intensity, there are periods of less intensity

And seasonal or rhythmic framing is frequently used too in approaches to personal change. Talking therapists / counsellors will work with clients to chart and explore a journey from the client’s Autumn (loss, or a sense of change arriving) through winter (a retreat, with a pivot around solstice), through Spring (things begin to emerge and grow), and into the client’s Summer (life, and harvest). It can be a powerful and effective approach. There are plenty of resources available online too – no need for a therapist[3].

So, if both businesses and those working with personal change ‘get’ the idea of seasonality and rhythm, we might reasonably expect to find it featuring in Business Change approaches and practice. But that really doesn't seem to be the case: certainly I don’t think I’ve come across change leaders and practitioners thinking designing change initiatives that incorporate rhythms of intensity and respite. How might we do so? Can we? I’m thinking we can, perhaps for example:

  • Rather than deploying change (new structures, processes, systems) during an organisation’s quiet period to avoid disrupting the business at busy times, we might instead recognise that we’re better introducing change in a season of alertness and energy, rather than when people are in a place of recovery. I guess it comes down to how important we view deep, embedded adoption of change (rather than deployment of new systems) to be.

  • Or, and this aligns with what we’re trying to do with Brain-Friendly Change, we might factor into our change planning where our people are in regard to societal ‘seasons’. For example, right now, we’re in a ‘recovery’ season in relation to the pandemic. Our people are, in many cases, fatigued and less resilient that in other seasons. We might, therefore, pay more attention to building the psychological safety that is linked to capacity for change.

  • Or, maybe, we think of change as being a season of intense activity (a Spring or Summer), and the period after change as being one of reflection and lower intensity. If so, maybe there’s a case for more focus on change interventions during that period of reflection (after the change has gone live), to facilitate deeper adoption by working calmly through issues after the change frenzy has passed. That would be a shift from current change practice that tends to programme interventions to precede and coincide with change deployment / go live.

Be interested to know what you think – am I misjudging the attention paid to this theme; is there promise in it; how else might it play out?

[1] https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-14888-8/ [2] See for example https://www.objectedge.com/blog/creating-an-operating-rhythm-as-a-leader-in-2021, https://realkm.com/2021/05/21/organization-management-rhythm-foreword-and-overview/, and https://bizshifts-trends.com/role-of-cadence-and-rhythm-in-business-create-cohesion-high-disruptive-competitive-environment/ [3] Eg, see https://www.seasonsofchange.com/seasons-of-change/

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