In a great book Leadership on the Line by Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky, they describe the difference between Adaptive Change and Technical Change.

If people have the know-how and procedures to solve a problem — a case where there is an answer, it is a technical problem.

Contrast that with situations where there are questions, not answers: challenges that require experiments, new discoveries and adjustments from many parts of the organization.  Heifetz and Linsky call these adaptive changes.

At the beginning of adaptive change, there is no guarantee that the new situation will be any better than the current condition.  People must change attitudes, values and behaviors and internalize the change — a high risk thing to do with an uncertain payoff.

What people see in an adaptive change setting is loss.  People don’t resist change, per se, they resist loss.

If you frame your situation in this manner, it goes a long way in helping you know how you should address it.  It is a very different environment when you are focusing on finding an answer vs. trying to raise the questions, but success only comes if you put your effort on the right end of the equation.

Think about the change that you are trying to make.  Is it a technical issue or an adaptive one?  Are you trying to find an answer or invent one?  Framing the change you seek in the right context will help you distinguish how you can mobilize those you are leading to achieve the results you want.Source:  Leadership on the Line by Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky, Harvard Business Review Press, 2002

About the Author leadership dots by dr. beth triplett

I'm the chief connector at leadership dots where I serve as "the string" for individuals and organizations. Like stringing pearls together to make a necklace, "being the string" is an intentional way of thinking and behaving – making linkages between things that otherwise appear random or unconnected – whether that be supervising a staff, completing a dissertation or advancing a project in the workplace. I share daily leadership dots on my blog to provide examples of “the string” in action. I use the string philosophy through coaching, consulting and teaching to help others build capacity in themselves and their organizations. I craft analogies and metaphors that help people comprehend complex topics and understand their role in the system. My favorite work involves helping those new to supervision or newly promoted supervisors build confidence and learn the skills necessary to effectively lead their team.

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