Management and Change Management – a new look with systemics

Managing change – The systemic theory of change

There are several types of change, both within companies and more generally.

In systemic theory, we talk about type 1 and type 2 changes. What is the difference between these 2 levels?
Let’s take an example proposed by Paul Watzlawick, one of the fathers of Systemics: the metaphor of changing gear in a vehicle

It is possible to change the speed of a car by acting on the engine speed in two different ways:

  • either by using the accelerator
  • or by changing gear.

Changing gear (type 2 change) is more complex and involves a higher level of logic than simply accelerating (type 1 change).

Let’s take an example from a company

The problem:

Every year, as the end of the financial year approaches, there’s a rush. You have to draw up the budget for Year 1 and close the last sales to end the year on a high note, while the holidays are approaching and half the workforce will be away from 24/12.

Solution 1:

The company manager decides to implement a major change to solve this problem:

No more holidays between 24 and 31/12. From now on, the financial year would be closed with a full workforce, given the stakes involved.

He implemented this change, and realised that the problem was still the same. Despite a slight improvement, the invoicing department has more time to invoice the latest orders. But nothing significant in terms of results.

Overall, it’s a failure. Orders were still arriving late in the week before 24 December.

Solution 2:

The following year, the manager reintroduced the holidays as usual and decided to implement a new change:

He asks the sales team to anticipate the end of the year and to consider the sales closing date as 15/12. Orders placed after this date would be included in the salespeople’s results for the following financial year (for the purpose of calculating their commission). This new rule will come into effect this year.

He informed the sales manager of this change in June, asking him to draw up an appropriate action plan.

The sales staff initially took a negative view of the news, but understood that they had to take the new situation into account if they did not want to see their commissions fall significantly. Last-week orders often account for 30% of December sales. They are thinking about a new approach to their business plan.

They work with their customers to anticipate orders and achieve the target. Almost all the orders arrived before the fateful date of 15/12.

It’s a success!

Solution 1 was a type 1 change : superficial, a kind of ointment that didn’t make it possible to make any structural changes to the way the problem was tackled.

Solution 2 was a type 2 change : structural, forcing the sales team to anticipate and review its sales approach to its customers, well in advance of the deadline.

Nothing is absolutely invariable: life is constantly changing, constantly evolving. So if change is inevitable, why is it so difficult to change?

Change generates a phase of discomfort, stress and, for some, even suffering, when faced with the loss of reference points and the uncertainty of a new situation. It requires an effort to adapt, and is naturally met with resistance.

The example given above is a good illustration of this, and any change experienced in a company is very often perceived as stress.

When introducing change into the company, it is important not to choose the wrong type of change.

Do you need a type 1 change or a type 2 change?

Here are some additional theoretical explanations

Type 1 change

In Type 1 change, the modification only affects the elements of the system, allowing the system to maintain its equilibrium. This type of change, which is superficial, is based on voluntarism and sometimes proves to be insufficient for the company’s development, requiring a more profound change corresponding to type 2 change.

However, type 1 changes are sometimes sufficient, and should not be condemned out of hand, but rather carefully analysed in the light of the situation and the objectives.

Type 2 change

In type 2 change, it is the system itself that is modified (or is being modified), at the level of the rules governing its structure and internal order, which implies an in-depth mutation.

This change implies a new representation of reality, a change of glasses, through a modification of the vision of the world and of the reading grids.

The distinction between these two types of change may seem simple enough to understand in theory, but it is more difficult to grasp in real-life situations. It is vital, therefore, for the manager in charge of change management not to confuse the two, at the risk of implementing interventions that are more disastrous than positive.

How do you manage change?

To go further with Assess Manager