Stage 6.5.5  Orchestrating the Pass-On Process

When all is said and done, we have to ask, how much influence can an individual change agent have on this overall process? The answer probably is: not a great deal unless you are very highly placed in the system to begin with. Even then you can be swiftly overtaken by events and circumstances quite beyond your control. Michael. Fullan, a long-time observer of change projects in Canada and many other countries, drives home this point in his book. Having conceded the point, the countering argument that we would make here is that knowledge of what the total process might look like is helpful in several ways in guiding the process to the extent that one can, intervening at strategic points when opportunities arise, and knowing perhaps when to stay out of it entirely.

Undoubtedly, there is a flow to the affairs of all organizations which allows for some types of innovation at some times and none whatsoever at other times. For example, there will always be times of special concern about budgets when everyone is asked to tighten belts, cut costs, remove staff, etc. As long as these times of stringency last it will be difficult to put forward any significant change efforts unless these deal specifically with budget cutting. Even in the case of these special economy innovations, it will be difficult to initiate changes because everyone is so busy defending what they have now. How often have we heard that "the last hired is the first fired." This principle of fiscal stringency applies to all kinds of new things besides people and certainly applies to change projects and change sub-systems and is the enemy of all efforts to extend and renew the change process.

 However, these fiscal stringency campaigns have a life cycle of their own; they wax and wane, and when they are on the wane, there is an opportunity for change efforts to reassert themselves once more. Thus, the change agent must be able to feel the pulse of the larger system, sensing the changing levels of tension among members, the ups and down of levels of concern for issues related to the change process, always on the lookout for the right moment. This is what we mean by having a good sense of timing. In other words, the effective change agent is a pragmatist, always practicing the art of the possible while keeping the longer range goals of change in view. The change agent must be able to identify the "magic moments" when forward movement and acceptance of new ways of doing things is possible. The other side of this coin is being able to play the waiting game in the sometimes long periods between these magic moments. Know when and where to place your bets, when to act and not to act.