I’m currently crawling my way through Dante’s Inferno (in English, obviously) and have just met those souls doomed to walk forever with their heads facing the wrong way.  Walking forward but facing backwards, these are the futurologists; those who were so presumptuous as to try and foresee and foretell the future.  Considering that they’re in valley 4 of circle 8 and a long way further down than the heretics, gluttons, pimps and money lenders, I thought this was a bit harsh.  Especially as I myself have spent a good deal of my work life trying to envision the future.   And so I wondered what this meant for change consultants.

Traditional change consultants tend to impose change on organisations.  They pre-cook their solutions off site and then heat them up before serving their often unpalatable offerings onto an unwilling workforce.  It is often a case of replacing tried and tested but unfashionable systems with untried and untested fashionable systems.  The result is like tipping the chess board over and trying to carry on the game with fewer players all of which are out of position.

The new breed approach change radically differently.  For a start, they often have few processes.  What they try to do is create a climate in which change happens naturally.  By encouraging dialogue and co-creation they aim to make change evolutionary and thereby sustainable.  So they are not trying to impose a future per se, but enabling an organisation and its people to see things differently.

I passionately believe that most organisations know that it doesn’t have to be like this.  Surely if we had a chance to start again then we would never allow society and its institutions become what they’ve become.  Current levels of consumption are unsustainable; risk and reward are out of kilter; people are working far too hard and under too much pressure.  Within work people are often constrained by legacy processes, and ingrained behaviours and attitudes.  The ratio between productive and unproductive work seems wrong, with so much time given over to internal meetings and endless powerpoint presentations.  For many work is dominated by large amounts of input and output, and outcome, actually achieving something, remains a distant memory.  Scratch the surface and many people will admit that they’re not happy with their work lives.  But what to do about it?

There is also a new breed of leaders coming through who recognise that life doesn’t have to be like this.  They are recognising the power of social media to help to change radically the way that their organisations function.  Principally, they see that command and control is no longer effective.  But they also see the enormous benefits of embracing the new communications technology to encourage co-creation and collaboration.  They recognise that the new organisations will not be hide-bound by processes, silos, divisions and, most of all, by hierarchies of status. They know that empowered employees can help them create the organisations they wish they had.

So perhaps it is less about envisioning the future than in changing the present. What would Dante think of that?  I’ll let you know when I reach Paradise.  But before I reach there I have to pass the corrupt advisors. Now I wonder who they might be?