Sense Of Self And Organizational Change


When it comes to organizational change efforts, there are participants and actors. The ones we identify as the actors are those who are actively helping the organization, themselves and their colleagues through the change. The participants are those in the organization who are involved primarily as recipients of the change. Both types are moved by the preferences included in the Sense of Self dimension.

The continuum within the Sense of Self dimension that is perhaps most important to identify at the beginning of a transformation initiative is the flexibility-order continuum. A flexibility orientation is the ability to appreciate change for change’s sake, whereas an order orientation is the need to mitigate risk by creating structure throughout a transformation. Those with order orientations will seek more clarity and structure within the change initiative in order to feel more comfortable with it, and the leaders in an organization need to be ready to supply them with all the information they need. Conversely, those with flexibility orientations may need to be guided by their organization’s leaders because they may feel so comfortable with change that they do not put enough effort into accommodating it, for example, by learning the new systems they need to.  

Another continuum in the Sense of Self dimension that has a lot to do with organizational transformations is the hierarchy-equality continuum. It is essential for the leaders of an organization to clarify from the beginning how much consensus from their workforce they wish to accept. They could either chose the equality route and seek to involve people from across all levels of the organization in the transformation, or they could be more hierarchical and structure it so that decisions mostly come from the top down. Both of these approaches have their risks and rewards when it comes to instituting major changes in a company. An overly hierarchical approach could have people lower in the organization rejecting the change because they do not feel connected to it and do not completely understand the necessities behind it. On the other hand, if there is too much consensus, the process can become convoluted and inefficient. We at TMC usually counsel clients to adopt some level of hierarchy in the name of efficiency but to selectively seek consensus in order to give people at all levels of the organization a sense of involvement in the process to increase their interest in it.

The last continuum in the Sense of Self dimension we feel is essential to understand during an organizational change is the control-constraint continuum. Those with control orientations may see in change an opportunity to put thought into the effort and become a proactive and willful participant in it, because it’s part of their preference to try to impact the environment around them. One challenge with control-oriented team members is that they may try to take the change in directions that weren’t planned for. Conversely, people or departments within an organization that are constraint oriented may passively allow the change to occur without really engaging with it or learning the new systems they need to.  

It’s important for leaders to understand team members’ Sense of Self preferences – that is, how they are motivated and how they perceive themselves as part of the change – in order to help orient them toward the transformation and present them with opportunities to feel comfortable with it.

David Lange