Change Management is an Infinite Game

(This is Part 2 of the Change Management in Perspective Series. Read Part 1.)

The Infinite Game

There are three parties in change management:

  • The leadership who make strategic plans for change;
  • The middle management and working level who implement the change;
  • The internal and external stakeholders who are impacted by the change.

In the book The Infinite Game , author Simon Sinek details the concept of finite game and infinite game –

A finite game has clearly defined goal and it ends with well-defined rules. Every game has a beginning, middle, and end, and in the end there are clearly defined winners and losers.

By contrast, an infinite game is not about winning but about continuing to be in the game and keep playing.

Change management used to be a finite game, and change leadership’s focus was on winning.

Nowadays, change management is more of an infinite game.

Transformation has always been an infinite game, because organization never really “won” and then “stop”.

Organizations are meant to survive, sustain and thrive — basically, they’re meant to keep playing.

In the same sense, change leadership has also always been an infinite game.

When the change management effort is more project-oriented, it’s more of a finite game, and change leadership is more likely to diverge from change management.

When the change management effort is more operation-like, it’s more of an infinite game, and change leadership is more likely to align with it.

The Infinite Mindset

For transformation to become relatable and manageable to everyone, all of us need to develop an infinite mindset.

In the context of change management, having an infinite mindset means at least five things:

  • We acknowledge that digital technologies have accelerated the pace of change in almost all areas of how we work and how an organization operate.
  • We recognize that change management effort is becoming more and more continuous.
  • We realize that change management needs to be operationalized to keep up with that continuity.
  • We understand that the nature of transformation has shifted from making the outcome of a transformation long-lasting, to making the organization itself transformable so that it becomes truly adaptable to constant change.
  • We commit to helping our organization become transformable by helping the people grow along with the organization.

That is a major shift of orientation.

To change management, it’s a shift from a project-oriented, one-off approach, to an operation-oriented, continuous approach.

To employees, it’s a shift from an outcome-oriented approach to a capability-oriented one.

In a constantly changing environment, the success or failure of any single transformation attempt by way of change management becomes much less important than the overall capability to transform.

The question of the past was: can we succeed this one time?

The question of now is: how likely are we to succeed over time and across many such transformation attempts?

That’s not only where the agile practice makes a lot of sense, but also where employees can associate their own growth with the growth of the organization.

Despite all the challenges and sometimes setbacks, in many transformation efforts, even though specific projects or initiatives can eventually come to an end, the established relationships never end, the intellectual support for each other never ends, and the belief in the cause for transformation never changes.

That’s the infinite game.

The drive to change never ends, despite all the changes in management and strategies.

That’s the spirit I have seen in great transformation teams doing great transformation work.

As long as leadership nurture that infinite mindset by actually taking care of people, it’s actually relatively easy for employees to believe in the causes of change and transformation.

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