Friday, 18 June 2010

Of chaos and change

I've been working up this theory recently, and I'd like to run it past y'all. It's about what happens sometimes in an organisation going through change, and what happens to some of the people responding to that change.

"Change Agent" is a term many people are familiar with these days. It's often used in a positive context to indicate someone who enters an organisation with a clear agenda to change it, mould it into a new shape, and probably doesn't stick around too long after setting up a clear successor who can support that change. Of course to those who don't think change is necessary Change Agents are harbingers of bad times and pointless reinventions of wheels that weren't falling off in the first place.

I'm wondering about the anti-Change Agent, the "Chaos Agent" if you will. I've seen these people pop up when resistance to change is the minority or perhaps the moment to resist has passed, and all that's left is to hold out and try to frustrate change as much as possible, by fucking shit up as much as possible.

The stupid thing about the Chaos Agent though is that while they resist they are not going to turn the change back. And they are simultaneously denying themselves, and possibly others, the chance to seek out opportunities that arise from change (and there usually are some). They become so entangled in creating chaos whenever they can that they frustrate and turn away others who might well have resisted change with them, but instead are alienated because the Chaos Agent often doesn't seem to care whose work they mess with, as long as it makes things harder than they needed to be. There seems to be this idea that if they make stuff difficult enough the leadership will give up on change, which I suppose sometimes they do, but more often the Chaos Agent just makes themselves irrelevant to new structures and in fact draws attention to their inadequacies because sooner or later people start complaining about their behaviour. Change Agents surely sniff out Chaos Agents with ease and then dispose of them right when they've made themselves so unpopular their passing is hardly mourned at all.

One of the contexts I've seen Chaos Agents working in is opposing improvements in women's representation within an organisation. Anything that makes a woman react emotionally, even if she is being entirely rational while she's emotional, gets 10 points. Actual tears get 50. The point is to oppose change in a petty, underhand way. And it can work in the early stages of change too, especially when that change is being driven from below rather than above. Demoralise and drive off Change Agents from the grassroots and success is guaranteed. A new CEO whose been put in as a Change Agent is less likely to go however, seeing as how driving change is why they were appointed in the first place.

So what do you think? Have you seen Chaos Agents at work?

1 comment:

Hugh said...

Definitely, although I think most Chaos Agents define themselves as Change Agents. And the same person could be either in different contexts.

I've also seen an institutional culture that develops as a result of multiple Chaos Agents, where there's a general scepticism towards any form of change or reform. Which is of course very harmful, unless the organisation has reached some state of institutional perfection.