Deep change in societal and public organizations – Jaap Boonstra

The need for change within public and societal organizations is not uncommon in a world full of political, economic, technological and cultural transformations. But how can public organizations effectively transform themselves in a global world and what can leaders and professionals do to effect deep changes successfully?


Change as a playing game

Change in societal and public organizations is not a goal in itself but is for the purpose of society and its citizens. This means that there is a continual dialogue with all parties involved about achieving deep change. The best chance for successful change comes from giving meaning and value to organizational life, and to what the organization wants to mean for citizens, clients and for society. Successful leadership in organizational change is connected with passion and a vision of the future and not with a formal position in the organization. Everyone can play a role in successful change. Change initiators bring people together with an inspirational vision and moving their organization to meet the future. In this article organizational change is no longer perceived as a planned or programmed effort but as a dynamic and continuous process. The metaphor for change as a playing game may help to convene this ongoing process. This metaphor is visualized and described below.

On the playing field the essence is to explore the world, inquire what is going on and understand the dynamics that effects the organization as a collaborative effort of people who create meaning and contribute to customer value. A wordly view may help in this inquiry. A political mindset is needed to map the player groups in and around the organization that may foster of hinder the change process. The ambition to play for is based on the meaning and the values of the organization and related to the business idea of the organization. This is related to a strategic mindset. Exploring play patterns may help to understand organizational cultures and visible and concealed dynamics between players within the organization. Play patterns may be discovered by a cultural view. The perspectives on the playing field, the players, the ambitions and the game patterns offer a solid ground to develop the concept of play and select a combination of change strategies that fits to context and situation. A dynamic view is needed to choose and combine change strategies. In the roles to play players are enrolled and organized to contribute to the change process. This needs a collaborative mindset. Formats to play are about actions plans and interventions that engage people and support the change process. An action mindset may support choosing and applying interventions. The final game element is experience of playing, which is linked to feelings and emotions during the changes and successes of the change process. To sense these experiences you need a reflective mindset.

Leaders as initiators

Everyone is able to take initiative in change processes and be a change leader. Initiators in change have a worldly mindset and are conscious of developments in their environment. The strategic mindset helps to realize that the organization is a collective entity that achieves common purpose and qualify for the future. From a cultural mindset they know what is going on in the undertow and can sense what people are concerned about. Initiators in strategic and cultural change display a dynamic mindset. They show the way in an uncertain environment by considering a meaningful combination of change strategies. Successful change leaders form vital coalitions and they work on change from a position of commitment and personal motives. This political mindset is connected with a collaborative mindset in order to realize change by getting people together and organize teamwork to make renewal possible. With an action mindset change leaders maintain direction and guiding people along. Change leaders are conscious player and have a reflective mindset aware of themselves and others around them. This helps them to create meaning in the change process for themselves and others and add value to the purpose of the organization for customers and society.

Jaap Boonstra
Netherlands School of Public Administration, Esade Business School

Jaap Boonstra is a professor at The Netherland School for Public Administration and at ESADE Business School in Barcelona. He is engaged in executive education in organizational and professional development. As a consultant he is involved in change processes in societal and public organizations in safety, health care, and education. Jaap is author of ‘Cultural Change and Leadership in Organizations‘ and ‘Dynamics of Organizational Change and Learning‘. His most recent English book is ‘Change Management Adventures. In 2019 his now book ‘Change as play’ will be published in English and Spanish.

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