The Bermuda Triangle of Organizational Change

The Bermuda Triangle. Synonymous with mystery, disappearance and the unknown. Generally understood to be an area of the Atlantic Ocean cornered by Bermuda, the southern tip of Florida, and Puerto Rico. An area where ships and planes disappear.

Many writers and scientist have disproved the notion that the Bermuda Triangle is any more dangerous than any other portion of the Atlantic. But the idea remains, and “The Bermuda Triangle” has become idiomatic in the English language. People use the term when they want to imply dark, mysterious, or fatal. Something entering the triangle may become permanently lost, and even a trace cannot be found.

In managing effective organizational change, there is a Bermuda Triangle equivalent: Culture, Tradition, and Policy. Any change plan needs to recognize this, or this trio will pull the proposed change away and make it disappear!

Policy, or the desire to have control over everything, is the first side. When organizations have been around for any length of time, they usually have policies that were meant to control change or growth. Many organizations use policy as a means of controlling possible outcomes, assuring a consistent result. In machine operations, certain policies or procedures can add to the life of an asset and its productivity.

Then there is Culture, or the prevailing behavior of the organization. Culture lives in each employee, and although each may interpret it differently, together they know how to band together to isolate change opportunities and at times, kill them off. Have you ever seen an organization hire someone they think will bring change, only to have that person suffer from organizational “organ rejection”?

Finally, we have Tradition. The fuzziest of all because no one understands it exactly the same way. What one person holds as an important tradition, another may see as a waste of time and effort. Traditions, rituals, ceremonies – things that we do formally and informally which act as a sort of social anchor are not important to everyone, but those who value traditions give them attributes of a living being. If you threaten tradition, you threaten me!

So in the next couple of weeks I intend to post ideas and suggestions for dealing with this trio of important considerations. Ignore them at your peril!

4 Responses to The Bermuda Triangle of Organizational Change

  1. Thanks for the great analogy. At one employer, I recall a new executive going through the company archives, finding a graphic that the company had used to illustrate an old program. When her newly proposed program was unveiled, the old graphic had found a new life. I believe the graphic from an old successful program helped seal the CEO’s approval, when several before her failed at getting the initiative off of the ground. Knowing the dynamic interplay of culture, policy and tradition can help ensure success.

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