New students in the master’s programme in Leadership for Change attended the virtual Leadership Symposium (in Finnish: Johtajuussymposium, johtajuus standing for leadership) organized on 9 September 2020 by the Faculty of Management and Business in Tampere University. The students were tasked to pay attention to how change — one of the key concepts of the study programme — was talked about, to relate this to their lectures and course readings and to write reflections on the basis of it. We are publishing some of the student reflections here.
Change can take many shapes, and the means to bring it can differ greatly
As mentioned in Dr. Anni Kangas’ lecture, change can be interpreted as an “essentially contested concept” based on Walter B. Gallie’s (1956) work. In other words, it is an abstract notion, but with a general understanding around its meaning. This was illustrated by the panel held at the Tampere University’s Leadership Symposium around “Futures of Sustainable Urban Development”. For example, while Mr. Jonathon Taylor emphasized the incidence of climate change on urbanization’s future, Ms. Katariina Haigh advocated for a greater role of citizens in the decisions to be made around their own lifestyle.
In addition to thinking about the many forms of change, understanding it shows its diverse nature. Hodges and Gill (2015) worked on a typology of this concept based on four of its features: character, magnitude, focus, and level. For instance, according to Katariina Haigh, the key question around sustainability in urbanization is to decide where to build. This can be characterized as a planned change. Ms. Henna Helander pointed out a shift of paradigm, as theorized by Thomas Kuhn (1962), toward a post-functionalist time, and the need for cities to adapt to this phenomenon. Hodges and Gill would call this magnitude “transformational” as it is meant to completely differ from the previous prevailing mindset. Mr. Toni Tuomola’s comment on mix-used development areas, that would not be dedicated to only one use, relates to a focus on tactics, as it is part of a bigger reflection on promoting sustainability.
As for Hodges and Gill’s last identified feature of change, the level, there seems to be a consensus between the speakers of the “Future of Sustainable Urban Development” panel and Michael Mann as expressed in his article “Lifestyle change won’t be enough to save the planet” published in Time. In the article, Mann highlights the misconception around the role of individual behavior’s in fighting climate change, advocating for action at higher levels (Mann, 2019). Also, both Mr. Jonathon Taylor and Ms. Katariina Haigh emphasized the role of higher scales, whether to show the scale at which inequity operates and change is needed, or to ask for more sharpness at the political level regarding urbanization.
In regards to the idea of Leadership for Change, this discussion has brought both clarifications and a framework to understand change and its processes, while the theoretical ground provided by the various readings have found illustrations in the Leadership Symposium panelists’ concrete experience of the urban sector and the thoughts of climate change thinkers.
Reflections on Change Studies
The COVID-19 pandemic and climate change are among the changes that the world is highly concerned about at the moment. Studying such changes is important for identifying and solving problems, and driving social development, thus in order to effectively carry out positive change and lead the progress of society.
Reactive change is a response to factors in the external environment that have already occurred (Hodges & Gill, 2015). The organizational response to COVID-19 change and climate change are reactive changes. Yet, fitting to the typology of change by Hodges and Gill (2015), these two changes present distinct differences.
Adopting the planned change approach may be needed for handing climate change. As the level of sacrifice to eliminate all “carbon sin” is unacceptable to most, as Michael Mann (2019) argues, a deliberate, purposeful and systematic approach driven from the top is needed. At the same time, the world after coronavirus is a world of radical uncertainty as Julian Birkinshaw highlighted in his Leadership Symposium talk. Due to this, thinking about change in terms of emergent change may be a better way to protect organization’s interest (Hodges & Roger, 2015).
As to the magnitude of change, the process to stop climate change is also about incremental change. Eating less meat, changing transportation, reducing, recycling, reusing… massive things need to be done (Alter, 2018).
However, both climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic may, at some point, be examined in terms of “punctuated equilibrium”. Here, thinking about the focus of change is also instructive: at earlier stages of responding to COVID-19 and climate change the focus has been at strategic change, whereas at the later stages, the focus will shift to operational changes. This reminds, for instance, that high technology is not always necessary for building sustainable city, as was mentioned in the Leadership Symposium panel on sustainable urban futures. Here, Copenhagen has make huge progress with strategic change thinking as it has investing in bicycle infrastructure has been followed by operational change: more and more citizens have started to use the infrastructure for daily transportation (Jensen, 2019).
Change and the need for conceptual clarity
Change was discussed in the Tampere University’s Leadership Symposium panel “Futures of Sustainable Urban Development”. The panelists seemed to have different views over whether the magnitude of change should be transformational or incremental. Jonathon Taylor argued that we do not have enough time to make incremental changes because sustainable change needs to take place rapidly. According to Taylor, even the CO2 drop from the coronavirus pandemic is not sufficient compared to the 7% decline that the planetary boundaries actually require. Instead, Henna Helander suggested that small steps and incremental changes in all areas should be accepted as good enough rather than just looking at one direction. According to her, taking care of the already existing building structures would provide a sustainable way forward. She also emphasized the change process that we all need to attend in our everyday life. When looking at the character of change, one could connect Helander’s thoughts to the emergent or contingent type of change which was introduced by Kangas (2020) in her lecture about change on the basis of Hodges and Gill’s book (2005).
I believe that in order to fully understand change we have to accept the fact that the discussion is always subjective and context dependent. In the lecture by Anni Kangas (2020), the possibility of conceptual disagreement on the realization of change was mentioned. Because of this profound disagreement, we often get debating. During the lecture it was argued that conceptual clarity is needed, and reference was made to W.B. Gallie’s argument that we need to look at when and where “contested concepts” are used. This allows us to build some common ground.
Profoundly I believe that this took place also in the panel discussion: the speakers were talking about the same things — but the examples arose from different contexts. This made it look as if there was some sort of a fundamental disagreement at times. However, the need for change was evident in everyone’s opinion. Conceptual clarity is definitely needed for action requirements and implementation of change solutions, and this became evident also from the panel discussion on sustainable urban development. I believe that need to understand that change has to be taking place on all levels, everywhere, all the time. Ways that the change happen, do not necessarily contradict each other.
In the second part of the Symposium, “The World After Corona”, Professor Julian Birkinshaw argued that levels of uncertainty define the strategies for dealing with change. Altogether, he argued that organizations need to be both agile and resilient in order to be successful in the world of radical uncertainty. Agility only is not enough for organizations to prosper in the midst of turbulent conditions but resilience is also needed. Resilience, according to Birkinshaw refers to business continuity and building long time resilience. Companies which manage to be agile but lack resilience have less chances of surviving in todays world.
In his Leadership Symposium talk, Birkinshaw also referred to opportunities for new business in the midst of a reality punctuated by negatives and even death threats which happen almost without warning. During the lecture by Anni Kangas, the magnitude of change was also discussed in terms of “punctuated equilibrium”, which can be very well applied to Birkinshaw’s thoughts about the levels of uncertainty. There, we have the known unknowns , that is, the change processes that are predictable and things that we have already enough data to be predictable. Secondly, we have the black swan events, such as COVID19 and 9/11 which are unknown unknowns, thus difficult to prepare to but afterwards deductible. Lastly, we have the grey rhinos, which are events that happen so slowly that they do not cause change in our behaviors.
Finally, Birkinshaw also alked about the implications of the Corona era. He argued that implications will be seen on all levels of the society. It will have an effect on policy making, business functions and ways of doing work. On the one hand, he argued that some things will recover to their pre-corona status whereas there might be a profoundly change, for example, in where we work and study. Change in the concept of time and place was also brought up in the first panel discussion when thinking about the sustainable urban development. The corona time that we are now living through also gives us valuable time to reassess the functions that we have and are used to, as well as the physical space where we are. We see that some functions we are able to carry out at distance, whereas forms of learning require close human interaction.
Change – and umbrella concept that needs to be specified
Change is not the easiest concept to define as it is a very diverse concept. Yet, academic research demands conceptualization. We talk about change daily giving the concept numerous meanings. Gill and Hodges’ (2015) typology of change introduced to us at our lecture seeks to understand change by looking at different sides and dimensions of phenomena. I find this kind of approach helpful when dealing with abstract concepts such as change.
First, we can examine the character of change (Gill and Hodges 2015, 23). This is about questioning if change is something that people take actively part in, or is it more emergent, something that happens passively. The Leadership Symposium discussions offered several perspectives of change. Interestingly, speakers such as Sirpa Pietikäinen and Kai Sauer pointed out drivers that had led to changes in the societies: For instance, the raise of populism as a consequence of the financial crisis or the rule-based international order as a result of the World War II.
In the same sense we could think that the transformation towards sustainability is a result of global warming. If a change is planned it is most likely a rational decision, but there are also “push” factors that ‘force’ the change to happen. It is not always clear how the driver of change was created, and was is a rational decision. For instance, urbanization is a megatrend that is likely to continue. To what extent did the humankind rationally create urbanization, or is it something that just happened? What can be said for certain, is that the decision to build more sustainable communities is a rational decision that needs input of many different fields of expertise. I would suggest, that to make a positive change in the society demands for rational decisions.
The magnitude of change can also vary a lot (Gill and Hodges 2015, 23). Change happens in many levels, and one may even talk about paradigm shift when the whole society changes. At her lecture, Anni Kangas used the post-fossil transformation as an example. There, one could already argue that the change has been transformational. In the Leadership Symposium panel on sustainable urban development, the panelists seemed to disagree on the magnitude of the change process in urban planning when it comes to climate crisis. There are ideas where building village-like communities is the goal and can be achieved through small gradual changes and collaboration planning. However, Jonathon Taylor (2020) called for “radical transform of change” that needs to happen relatively quickly. He talked about “collective behavioral change” that is towards one single goal, to be more sustainable. His main point, as any academic would probably agree, was that to be able to tackle the climate crisis, the changes have to be of great magnitude.
But if change is something that people create, then who steers the project? Kurt Lewin has a well known idea about the ‘unfreezing of human behavior’, which was discussed at the lecture. After unfreezing behavior, it is possible to move things and create change. If change is planned and someone is executing it, it means that there is someone or something behind the change. Thus, change includes someone using power and shifting the world to their interests.
The question of power may even be thought about in terms of the very basic debates about international relations, world order and power balance. Kai Sauer’s presentation pointed out the current drivers of change. One of these was China emerging as world power and the US taking less responsibilities in the world stage. Through economic and political power China is predicted to have more to say in the world change processes.
Finally, we should examine the level at which change happens. It can be anything from individual to global level (Gill and Hodges 2015, 40). However, these are not separate, but change in one level effects on the changes in other levels as well. For instance, Michael E. Mann (2019) questions the capacity of individuals’ lifestyles choices to hinder the climate change. He demands policy changes listing different ways of in which the individuals would be forced to change their habits. According to Mann, change should be systematic and happening in every level – but in a way, he seems to argue that a “higher” level should force the change to happen in “lower” levels.
As a conclusion, a typology such as that by Gill and Hodges (2005) offers a good tool to examine the concept of change. Defining change is tricky and I would suggest that change should be seen as an umbrella concept and, when using it in an academic text, the concept should be specified.
Where does responsibility lie in climate change?
In a short text published in Time, the climate scientist Michael Mann (2019) posits the principal efforts to change the world towards sustainability on the governmental and global levels. For him, small daily life changes are worthy – but not of a concrete impact. In other words, the responsibility towards change is governmental rather than societal.
Besides Mann (2019), the panelists at the Leadership Symposium also seemed to suggest that governments have the responsibility to rule in favour of a sustainable world. They talked about change in terms that suggested that change is not really planned or emergent but rather contingent. For change to be contingent, according to Hodges and Gill (2015, 28), it needs to be open but may still follow some directions and steps, being guided by governments or higher authorities. In my opinion, this dimension may also respect local particularities, therefore enhancing the probability of the actors adhering to the agreed.
Further, considering Hodges and Gill’s typology (2015, 38–40), it is possible to relate the governmental orientation to its strategic focus and organisational or global levels. The speakers of the panels highlighted citizens’ responsibility to be agents of change. The first panel on sustainable urban development pointed out examples of collaborative urbanisation planning, pushing states to rule in favour of sustainability, and preferring sustainable choices on the daily life, for instance in urban mobility and house warming.
The second panel on the topic of the world after the coronavirus pandemic pointed out the important role that society has on exerting pressure on authorities towards sustainability and international relations that may be jeopardised with the pandemic crisis.
These ideas can be further related to the typology of change presented by Hodges and Gill (2015, 38-40) along the dimensions of focus and level. Focus is operational and tactical, and the level is individual and societal. Furthermore, while discussing sustainable urban development, the first panel pointed out the opportunity to reuse construction materials and electrify automobiles. It is also instructive to think of the issue further in terms of the idea of punctuated equilibrium paradigm, which relates to the question of the magnitude of change as it combines features of incremental and transformational change (Hodges and Gill 2015, 37). In conclusion, paradigms are changing at global, local and individual levels, and are all relevant and fundamental towards a more sustainable world.
Going deeper into the concept of change
As I am a student of the leadership for change program, it is interesting to actually go deeper into the etymology of the word “change”. The lecture discussed the different meanings of change as it is a word that can be used in multiple different instances but it can have multiple different meanings. Anni Kangas spoke about four different categories when in the context of change: the “character of change”, “magnitude of change”, “focus of change” and finally the “level/scale of change”. All of these categories had sub-categories which help to separate the ways that people speak about change. The lecture focused on elaborating the differences between the categories as well as the sub-categories.
The first Leadership Symposium panel discussion was called “Futures of Sustainable Urban Development”. The panel discussion was surprising in the sense that it pretty much focused on the building perspective, but I think that the topic “sustainable urban development” comprises many more topics such as transportation and way of living etc. However, an important insight that I got from the panel was that there should be more changes in construction when it comes to building materials. For example. constructors should use more wood and new types of concrete in buildings. Here, we can relate the Times article where climate scientist Michael Mann (Mann 2019). argues that the companies can’t push the responsibility of climate change to individuals alone, but that companies should start to change their ways of doing business, and this is exactly what was spoken about at the panel, as there was a need to build more ecologically sound buildings. If we apply the typology presented by Dr. Kangas here, we could say that the character of change for urban development would be planned – it is something which is designed to happen. The change is not sudden, and the constructors are following trends. The magnitude of change would be incremental, as sustainable building would become increasingly more popular and at some point, the sustainable building is the only way to build. The focus of change was strategic, as the decisions to build in this way comes from the strategy of the companies and municipalities. The level/scale of change is societal. It could be global, but at least on the panel they discussed about Tampere and Helsinki, which makes it safe to say that it is societal.
The second leadership symposium panel discussion was called “The World After Corona”. The panel started with a presentation by Dr. Birkenshaw, which discussed business management during and after corona pandemic. Dr. Birkenshaw argued that more conventional risks have been side-tracked by unforeseen risks. In addition, he spoke about climate change being a “grey rhino”. With this he basically meant that climate change is entirely foreseeable, but that it is happening so slowly that nobody changes their behavior. Moreover, he spoke about the “black swan”, which is something that happens quite unexpectedly, but after the event people would think like “Oh, we could have seen this coming”. This made me think about whether grey rhinos actually evolve to black swans? What are we going to think in 40 years if we do nothing now and climate change related issues have taken turn to much worse? Are we going to be like “oh, we could have done something… but didn’t”.
In addition, Dr. Birkenshaw spoke about the importance of resilience and agility of businesses, and underlined that sometimes resilience is more important than agility and that at times like this resilience is needed.
When we relate the subject of the panel to the typology in the lecture by Dr. Kangas, we can analyze it this way: The character of change is emergent, as the companies didn’t prepare for corona last year, it came suddenly. The magnitude of change is transformational (we may even talk about paradigm shifts) as it is not a complete change, but it does change big parts. The focus of the change is tactical, as the companies couldn’t have planned for this in their strategies. The corona pandemic will probably affect the strategies of companies in future. Here, the level or scale of change is global, as it affects companies across the globe.
Sustainable urban development, the world after Coronavirus and key concepts of change
Isabel C. Rangel Pinzon
In the 2020 Leadership Symposium seminars about “Sustainable Urban Development” and “The World After Coronavirus” at Tampere University, the speakers talked about where to build, how to create sustainable urban areas, climate change and also about how a punctual event changed our everyday and impacted our future. In this summary I will relate these two seminars to key concepts of change.
If we think about life, it is always changing and moving – sometimes faster, but still determined by different contextual factors. When we refer to change, we expect an alteration, a reactive response, thus a transformation. It can be more specifically determined by the character, magnitude, focus and level of change. Discussing about the character of change, we find the planned, emergent and contingent conceptions of change. In magnitude, we locate the incremental, transformational and punctuated equilibrium conceptions of change. As to its focus, we find the strategic, tactical and operational change — and in the scale of the change we have the individual, team, organizational, societal and global change (Hodges & Gill, 2015).
The topics of the Leadership Symposium allow us to specifically analyze three types of change: planned, emergent and contingent.
In the first conversation about sustainable urban development, there was a clear intention to transform a specific place in a way that is more or less rationally planned, linear and unfolds in steps. Of course, it is possible that while urbanization is being built, some emergent change also takes place – however the magnitude will be diverse.
During the conversation some of the speakers mentioned what they believed were the biggest challenges in urban development: The reduction of CO2 in construction. The changing concept of work, leisure and time and its relationship with the structure of the houses. The difficulty to plan when the global context is changing and the problem of destroying to create new buildings.
Something that caught my attention was mentioned by Henna Helander when she said that through the pandemic people have started to realize how important urban planning is. She questioned, for example, the size of the houses in Finland and the relationship with the mental health considering that in these scenarios people have to spend more time at home and it is probable that situations like the COVID-19 will happen more often in people’s life in the future. Thinking about this in terms of Kurt Lewin’s sequence of unfreezing, moving and refreezing mentioned at the lecture by Anni Kangas, the argument here goes so that the idea that houses have to be small needs to unfreeze, once it happens at the societal level, change could occur in a demand of bigger houses, leading to refreezing the new belief – until something occurs and the process re-starts.
The second and third nature of change, reflected in the seminar “The World After Coronavirus” is emergent change. The pandemic starts as an emergent change due to an event that took us by surprise. In a few months, we were faced with a new reality that is transformationally changing. At this point, in some aspects of the coronavirus situation we have more clarity and an established plan. For other parts of the situation, we have created a contingence plan that might never unfold.
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Hodges, J., & Roger, G. (2015). Sustaining Change in Organizations. London: Sage.
Jensen, F., (September, 2019). The Sustainable City of the Future: Copenhagen, Denmark.
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Mann, E. M., (2019, September). Lifestyle Changes Aren’t Enough to Save the Planet. Here’s What Could. Time. https://time.com/5669071/lifestyle-changes-climate-change/