Gabazira's blog

The Effectiveness-Lab

Organisations don’t change, people change

We all, time and again, experience solo or group institution-bashing tantrums. We whine about things small and big to do with the institution.  Institution-bashing is so presumptuous that we don’t realize doing so doesn’t solve the organization’s problems and that the answer to whatever we choose to whine about lies with us and not the organization.  People change organizations.

People change organisations

What do we whine about? The never changing organization, organizations being unappreciative of our hard work and sacrifice, the exploitative organization especially in this era of organizations wanting to ‘do more for less,’ the selfish-entity that puts itself first and not you the worker, etc

During organization retreats at grande city hotels, you get to hear over lunch and dinner, and in the corridors, statements like ‘this institution will never change.’ These are all statements loaded with meaning.  It usually is a sign of a dissatisfied rank and file at the organization. And such dissatisfaction is accompanied by a yearning for positive change.

Isn’t it ironical that it’s at these grande team-building/strategy-making corporate retreats, that Institution bashing gets a home?  Is it because the rank and file get the rare opportunity to meet and moreover, away from the daily distraction of their day job – but with ‘safe’ space on the side to bash?

Also, how come the bashers don’t go to plenary and openly discuss the things they want to be changed?  Remember, they have this rare opportunity of having all the honchos in town and with them in a room for hours.  Of-course the bashers will claim that bringing about institutional change is not their job, but that of the institution

Well, let us take a step back and ask whose job it is to change institutions. Is it the job of the institutions to usher in positive change or the people at the institution? In other words, you and us!

Who changes institutions?

If we take the position that institutions aren’t human and that they don’t have a conscience – how do we expect them to have the brain to cause change that the institution-bashers yearn for? What is an institution? Can a mere object, in a body-corporate have human characteristics? Does it have a life? A conscience? This is a vexing matter in change management theory.  The answers to the latter questions are undoubtedly in the negative – yet, by tagging to people, organizations by extension have all these life characteristics

People and the organization are so interwoven that you can’t have one without the other. Institutions are made of people, and people make the institutions – it’s a symbiotic process that can’t be, without the fusion of the two

Therefore, organizations on there own don’t cause change – people bring about positive change that starts to get reflected in the organization’s body fabric.

So – when you or the group you are a part of start to bash the organization, pause and ask why the change you want can’t be started by yourself.

Change agent consequences 

Changing organizations can be very easy. It can also be extremely risky. It brings with it danger, the possibility of failure or even total loss. Change agents can be targeted by insiders and outsiders at the institutions they are trying to change. Agents have to be willing to absorb the pressure that comes with asking for a change to the status quo

You now understand why many of you, prefer asking for certain changes to the institution you work for, but in whispers over lunch and dinner and in the corridors. You don’t have the guts to confront those that you know can cause change. You don’t want the heat close to you. You play safe.

Fearing consequences is a zero-sum game

When we whine and bash, away from the prying eyes of those in power, we tend to get that ‘feel-good’ factor. Only that it’s shortlived – it’s a brief lunchtime / corridor-moment hiatus from the status quo. Within minutes, hours or days, you are back on the same turf that you hate and want to see changed.

Indeed, the: i) short-term Individual remedy/hiatus ii) the organization status-quo continuing and iii) the endless bashing by affected humans at the institution is a self-sustaining cycle

The cycle can only be broken when individuals accept that people change institutions –  institutions can’t change themselves – after all, it’s human beings that give institutions a conscience

But for individuals to change institutions successfully, certain givens have to be fulfilled:

1. Accepting that being a change agent has risks
2. To attract change agents to a change-job, there must be a compelling story. Flimsy causes ought to be avoided by the wise
3. Don’t become a change agent if you aren’t convinced about the reason
4. At the end of a compelling story, should come clearly articulated outcomes. What is in this for us, if the change did happen? Change has to be incentivized

So friends – people change organizations. Every time you whine about an institution that doesn’t want to change, ask yourself if you are personally doing enough to change it


2 responses to “Organisations don’t change, people change”

  1. I like this reflection on the organisational change. The change is important and irresistible if the entity wants to shift from the current state to the desired future state. However, many people are pessimists when it comes to the understanding of this term “change” because they only see one side of it such as retrenchment. The other side is easily forgotten! The other downside of the “change” is also based on the selfishness intention of change motivators, which may lead to the organisational behavior challenges. Therefore, change is obvious but not easy to manage…

    May question to you is : How can a lower rank employee influence the change which needs the executive decision to happen?


    1. Dear Emmanuel- nice reading from you hope all is well in the Philippines 🇵🇭

      Ok. where do I start answering your very good question? Influencing change is a matter of leadership and has nothing to do with seniority.

      It’s buying into a certain belief and having the ‘personality-wherewithal’ to table it and articulate why it’s important to you and others – the blog talks about the risks of being a change agent

      Some of the change i have implemented as ceo/cd, as you know well Emmanuel, has been driven by my ‘listening to the rank and file’. Of course – of course, it also has to do with how top leaders are willing to engage in what I call on the Effectiveness-lab, ‘accountability pit stops’ – i.e. stopping and deliberately checking in with the small women and men at the organisation

      Of course, where leaders are insular, change agents take on more personal risk. But as we all may know – leadership has its consequences and some of them quite risky!!!!!!


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About Me

Apollo B. Gabazira is an Ugandan OD. junkie fascinated by matters that render organisations/individuals effective or not. He blogs on effective leadership and management. He is a devoted green-farmer and breeds the Ayrshire cow at Nakabugu, Luuka district, Uganda. Apollo is quite effective at what he chooses to do.


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