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Change Models

As individuals and as groups, we have certain beliefs, values and identities that are “us,” and others that are “not us.” We may, for example, believe we are an organization that values hard work and orderly processes. We can call this the Primary Identity. When certain members of our work group or team are feeling like relaxing, having a rest and perhaps celebrating a success, we may be uncomfortable and even judgmental–’that is not the way we do things around here,’ we say to ourselves. This preference to relax or celebrate in this context is called the Secondary Identity. This difference, between what the organization’s culture normally supports–hard work, and the desire by some in the organization to want to relax and celebrate, is called an Edge.

As humans, we have Edges. As organizations, we have group Edges. As individuals and as groups, we can cross Edges. Let’s take for example an organization that wishes to move from a highly controlled, rigid culture to one that is more flexible and adaptable. This requires that organization crossing a group Edge from their Primary Identity (always being in control) to a desirable Secondary Identity (being more adaptable and flexible).

For a group or organization to cross its Edge (technically called a Double Edge), the individuals that comprise that group must also move over their Edges. The larger the system, the slower the shift from a primary to a secondary identity. More individuals mean more Edges must be crossed before the team or organization moves over the Edge.

There is a whole theory and set of techniques for doing this type of Edge work, originating from the work of Arnold and Amy Mindell at the Process Work Institute in Portland, then carried into coaching by the Center for Right Relationship. The name Collective Edge is inspired by this work and the fact that we work at the Edge–both within teams and organizations–to help clients make the changes that will take them to their next level.

The ground conditions for successful change

Margaret Wheatley (Leadership and the New Science) identifies three conditions that support successful change initiatives for groups, teams or organizations. Each of these conditions requires deep democracy and harnesses the innate wisdom of the system.

  • Change cannot occur without new information entering the system. Give employees as much information as possible.  This keeps people informed, builds trust, and cuts down on rumors. Management will sometimes withhold information for fear of producing anxiety.   It is particularly useful to review the primary and secondary identities in enrolling for the change.  “Here is who we have been, and here is why need to change and where we hope to go.”

  • Develop a sense of shared purpose. Employees need a reason to cross their own edges and join in the change initiative.  Help employees develop a sense of personal meaning of the change for them and their teams.  If a situation is personally meaningful to me I am more likely to be engaged.
  • Allow people to have input on how the change will occur. First, input creates buy-in.  People who play a part in the change process feel valued, important and more in control.  Second, people in every part of the company have critical information for the change process. Wheatley talks about a telecommunications company that spent millions on sheathed fiber optic cable without talking to the field installers.  When the cable arrived at the sites for burial the ditch diggers told them that the porcupines loved to chew up this type of cable! 

Spiral Dynamics levels