Create Micro-moves for Organizational Change

March 30, 2015

By: Max Branson

Nearly 70% of all change initiatives fail.

That was the depressing statistic with which Karen Golden-Biddle began her recent Positive Links Speaker Series session. The reason these change initiatives fail, she noted, is because they don’t do justice to the critical human component of change. In Prof. Golden-Biddle’s opinion, the old academic models “overemphasis the origin of change as being by necessity exogenous (externally driven) and highly disruptive. They portray the process of changing organizations as linear, implemented through top-down direction in very proscribed steps.”

Prof. Golden-Biddle’s work “seeks to enrich our understanding about how people inside organizations work together—leaders, front-line, across the levels—to create and sustain changes that benefit patients, students, customers, clients, and our larger communities.”

So, how is this positive change achieved? Through micro-moves. Micro-moves are “small and often barely noticeable patterns of action and interaction that engage people meaningfully and respectfully for change. They are consequential in generating collective enthusiasm and energy that build palpable hope and momentum.”

Here is an example that illustrates the power of Micro-moves, in Prof. Golden-Biddle’s own words:

“At Oakhurst Elementary School, first-grade classes undertook the project titled, ‘What Can One Little Person Do?’ They first, as part of this project, researched historical figures in America, paying attention to the contributions these people made to our country. Following on that research, they then asked the question that was going to guide the rest of their work: what contributions can I, as an individual student, and can we, as a first-grade class, make to create a positive change in our community?

“To explore this, they researched differences of people in the community, including vision, hearing, mobility, and learning differences. They invited experts into their classrooms to share their knowledge and experience about accommodations that people with differences might need in order to live and thrive in their community. Then the students ventured forth with their teachers into the community, guided by a recommended long-time resident and community volunteer who used a wheelchair to get around.

“They saw first-hand what had been done and what needed yet to be changed to accommodate all residents and visitors in their community. As Nadia, one of the students, commented, ‘We’ve been going on fieldtrips to look for things in our community that we can change to make things better for people who have differences.’

“Then, in January of this year, they presented their findings and recommendations for change to the Decatur City Commission. At this presentation, during her time at the podium, a student named Watts reflected on the project: ‘We have been learning about differences and what one little person can do. We’re fixing stuff in downtown Oakhurst for people with differences. There are no ramps… so people with wheelchairs won’t be able to get up on the sidewalk. It would be really difficult for them to live here if we don’t make these changes.’ That was the closing statement.”

To learn more about Micro-moves, and to hear more stories of their powerful influence, watch the entirety of Prof. Golden Biddle’s Positive Links Speaker Series session.