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Peter Senge on Organizational Change
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Peter Senge on Organizational Change
This article is taken from the Foundations for Leadership Program April 2014 and edited by SoL staff.
The reason why I was kind of drawn to start off with this little thread of reflection is that it is really important to appreciate this when we go about this "bringing about change” in our organizations.

We’ll come back to this a little later. I don’t think "bringing about change” is a very good word to use a lot of times. Not many people get up in the morning and go to work to be changed. How many of you have tried to implement a change in your boss or your spouse, or your teenagers? See, now we all laugh right away because we know it’s a kind of nutty way to think. But we’ve tried. That is why we also know when one human being tries to change another, usually it’s rather problematic. Yet we have no problem at all about changing our organization. Isn’t that interesting? Even through where it really comes down to in a big part is the change in people.

If I say, "hey, I’ve got a plan about how I want to change you.” First off, it’s fairly rude. Jim may be polite enough not to say anything, but he immediately has a reaction that’s kind of like this (defensive gesture). Anybody, if I say, "Be happy!” what is your immediate reaction? When someone says, "Be happy!” The reaction is, "No way!” But, who doesn’t want to be happy? So, it’s nothing to do with content. It has to do with the nature of the relationship, which is invoked when one person has in mind that they want to change another.

And yet, I’m sure behind each of your stories about why you believe certain changes are necessary in your organizations, each of the comments you made, are real reasons why you believe that certain changes are necessary in your organization. It’s not just a subjective personal opinion, like "I think these people have to change.” There are real reasons. The world is changing and our organizations are basically not able to adapt. There are deep problems in the way that organizations work today.

I’m just trying to illustrate the types of reasons. You know we look: people are not happy because they’re not working together well. If they had an opportunity, they’d actually go work some place else. These are the real problems. Nobody wants to work in an organization where if people have the opportunity, they’d go some place else.

So, it’s not that there is not a need for change. It’s just something about our first step. It’s often problematic. What I mean by our first step here is the place from which we are thinking, or the source of our awareness. And, it’s illustrated to me, in… I would say, thoughtless uses of the words like change. The people using it just don’t realize how it’s heard.


December 9-11, 2014 | March 25-27, 2015

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