My Husband is a Gardener

by Mandy Chapman


My husband is a gardener. He plants, he cultivates, he nurtures, he provides structures and frames, within which life can flourish. He carefully plans, provides a safe environment for growth and ensures the health and success of his subjects.

I have recently realised that his work is very closely aligned to mine. He manages organic systems, boundaries and frameworks so that his gardens can be the best they can be. I work with organisational systems – organic, living systems of people that need all of the same things that my husband provides to his systems.

My recent meanderings through the world of emergent change in the business world, has had me pondering the link between emergent change and how this can be practically achieved. Having been reintroduced to the concepts of emergent change in some recent change management books and events, I am a dedicated advocate – it seems like the only type of change that can now survive in the world that we have to navigate today. But how can emergent change work? How can a company retain control whilst unshackling employees to allow them to innovate, adapt and succeed? And although I am an advocate for the principles of emergent change, I have been struggling with the realities of how we might make this work in a corporate environment.

Let’s start with a question. What is emergent change?

Emergent change is based on the assumption that change is a continuous, open-ended and unpredictable process of aligning and realigning an organisation to its changing environment (Burnes, 2009).”

Emergent change then is open-ended, it is unpredictable – but in the business world this is an alien concept. Don’t we need clear objectives, strong boundaries, relatively few unknowns? Management is expected to know the change and communicate the change well. Without a clear destination, how are we to control and implement the change and ensure that everyone pulls their weight and gets onboard?

According to a team of Credit Suisse Analysts, the average tenure of a company in 1962 was 67 years, today it is just 15 years. Just 15 years before a company dies out, before it is swallowed up by the competition. Today requires a new way of thinking and working together to enable an organisation to thrive. Emergent change in its very definition is about listening to the heartbeat of an organisation, freeing people to innovate and adapt to economic, technological and market pressures. But how can we achieve this?

Deborah Rowland, author of Still Moving – How to Lead Mindful Change, points to a history of directive and top-down management. In her latest book she provides a framework for implementing Emergent Change and discusses the need for ‘Containment’, a ‘Loose Intention’ and a ‘Transforming Space’.

I think the days of large scale transformation are truly behind us. By embedding an emergent change philosophy into the bones of your organisation, so that adaptability, innovation and continuous change is just part of the day job, is this the last change project you ever do?

So yes, my husband is a gardener, he provides a transforming space, he provides containment in the form of a trellis and a loose intention to make it thrive – but he doesn’t dictate how, the rest is left up to nature and the outcome is sometimes unpredictable. A gardener’s nurturing and guiding hands then ensure that no-one strays off the path, weeds don’t infiltrate the system, environmental crises are managed often resulting in a change of direction, progress is made and the system blossoms. This is not a finite journey, it’s a lifetime of continuous development and improvement.

So by embracing emergent change, are we the guiding hands that will forever lead our organisation in the right direction regardless of how often that direction may change?

Mandy Chapman

Mandy has been helping HR teams to achieve their goals for almost two decades and is HRCubed’s General Manager. Read her bio here.