As a young boy, one of the simple joys I had while walking around the farm was picking up pieces of gravel and trying to hit trees or other targets I deemed appropriate. This was especially true around water as I would marvel at the different type of splashes the stones would make, I’d even rating the stone’s water entrance as if I was diving judge. It fascinated me to see how the ripples from one stone interacted with another’s, sometimes one would overpower another, while other times they would merge. I’d often wonder what it must feel like to be at the moment of integration, especially when it was the integration of many ever expanding ripples.
Working to bring about large scale change in organisations often involves being summoned into discussions and meetings you know nothing about but it’s because the ripples of actions you have been taking have collides with other ripples, from other people or groups. Whenever we change anything, we create ripples – sometimes small ones which dissipate quickly, but sometimes larger ones which then are felt a long way off. The trouble is, we often don’t realise the ripples are still expanding and impacting others.
When we do change well, there is usually some thought given to stakeholder management. I think we also need to begin thinking about the unexpected stakeholder – the ones with whom our stakeholders interact with. It’s kind of like the gossip train and the telephone game wrapped into one – you engage one stakeholder, who then takes that knowledge and tells his/her stakeholders, who then tell their stakeholders and so on, and all of sudden someone who you have never met before is giving you grief about the change you are making but you have no clue how s/he is related to your project. The ripples travel a long way.
One of the key skills we need is the ability to expect the unexpected to happened and to thrive when it does.