Responding to Disruption

The vitality of any organization depends on its ability to respond to disruption with minimum upheaval. Disruption is much more subtle than change and thus more difficult to discern and detect. If you miss it when it first slips into your world, it will surely reappear. The abrupt onset of disorder and disarray are the first clues that you have been looking in the wrong places.

People react to disruption in three ways:

  1. Proactive people are progressive in their approach.They tend to value innovation and respond positively to suggestions for improvement. They seek difficult challenges, collective concerns, and personal criticisms. Their most notable characteristics are that they anticipate disruption, take initiative, solve problems, and seek growth opportunities.
  • Reactive people are negative about most things.They tend to openly resist anything new. Their survival instinct is strong, and they are quick to feel threatened by disruption. They avoid responsibility and when things go wrong, they shift the blame to others. Their most notable characteristics are objections, obstruction, gossip, and covert sabotage.
  • Inactive people are neutral in their response to disruption. They maintain a “take it or leave it” attitude and avoid upsetting the status quo by dodging difficult issues. They accept reforms only when they see proof that it works. Their most notable characteristics are fence-sitting, reluctant approval, minimal support, and conditional agreements.

Watch closely the next time a disruption occurs, and you’ll notice most people become inactive while watching the struggle between the proactive and reactive. They sit on the fence until they see evidence that the disruption is taking shape and that management plans to act.

Leaders Can’t Do It Alone

Responding to organizational disruption is not just the job of leadership. Those who follow the direction of others must also be involved through meaningful dialogue and purposeful planning.

The best way to engage them is to organize topic teams to realign the processes so that the products and services continue to flow at the right quality and right quantity.

Once people are assembled, the next step is to pose a set of task-oriented questions that are strategically centered on the disruption itself. Here are a few sample questions:

– What are potential barriers to success?
– What is not working that we need to fix or throw out?
– What is working that we want to be sure and not change?
– What are we doing that can be modified to support the proposed change?

Disruption is about examining old habits, thinking in new ways, acquiring additional skills, and preparing to do something different. It is the only time that the future needs are called into question, opened for examination, and carefully measured to determine what is misaligned.

Disruption also provides the opportunity for you to consider the highest and best use of your abilities and to think about what you can do to ensure you don’t feel rejected.

Staying Focused on What Matters

Be forewarned that if you’re not watchful, the well-intentioned efforts to bring people together to develop strategies could easily turn in to a group therapy session. To keep the griping and complaining to a minimum, provide an agenda with a list of task-focused questions. The purpose of these questions is to bring individuals together around a common issue.

It is a truly marvelous thing to watch people walk into a problem-solving session angry, upset, and ready to fight, and within a short period shift their focus to how they can all contribute to make the place run better.

Leaders and followers alike put forth their best efforts when both are ready for change at the same time. Assessing who is ready helps prepare everyone for a good start.

            – What can I do to help?
            – How long will it take to get ready?
            – What am I doing that is no longer necessary?

            – What am I doing that I need to change or modify?

            – Who is ready right now and who needs more time?

The sample questions above are designed to bring people together around a common challenge. Such questions are neither critical nor judgmental; they simply open the door for meaningful dialogue. Once people get used to asking task-focused questions, they will purposefully frame additional questions in this new, helpful language.

It is gratifying to watch people shift their attitude toward acceptance when they realize that it is not just about them, it is also about their organization responding to a disruption.

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