Change and Trasnformation
Change & Transformation: Chronos Change
Derek R. Olson, PhD
This article is the second in a series of six looking into the difference between change and transformation in organizations and individuals, and applying this insight to developmental aims. The 1st article, Change & Transformation: Chrono Time & Kairos Events, gave an overview of the need to distinguish between the two and a brief introduction. This 2nd article will do a deep dive on Chronos change while the 3rd will do the same for Kairos transformations. The 4th and 5th articles focus on what these models look like in organizations and individuals. The final article will focus on the application of these insights. This article was written by Dr. Derek Olson, the Managing Partner & Chief Consulting Partner at The Ubuntu Group.
- Change is intimately related to the concept of Chronos time, which is the type of time we typically think of: seconds, minutes, hours, etc.
- There are at least six characteristics that make change unique from transformation: time frame and frequency, positive vis-à-vis negative, the prospect for control, predictability and preparedness, pain and loss, and agents involved.
- Two common models for practitioners of change are Lewin’s 3-stage and Kotter’s 8-step,
“True life is lived when tiny changes occur.”
- Leo Tolstoy
“If you do not change direction, you might end up where you are heading.”
- Lao Tzu
We must discern the differences between Change and Transformation because one is not the other. Yes, they are similar and are in fact often used interchangeably, but they are also fundamentally different. In this article, Change, as defined by the concept of Chronos, will be detailed in depth. The textbook definition of Change is “to make something/someone different, to alter or modify, to replace with a kind that is newer or better, to shift from one to another, or the act of instance of making or becoming different” (Merriam-Webster - Change, 2021; Oxford Languages – Change, 2021).
The concept of Change is further enhanced by understanding the Greek term Chronos. Chronos refers to the concept of time that we in the West understand, where there are seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, years, decades, eons, and so on. It can also be considered in thousands of other ways: from how many cups of coffee one drinks, the number of Zoom calls you have in a week, or how often you walk the dog. Chronos is linear, moves constantly, is viewed in sequence, and is expressed quantitatively (Strong’s 5550). This, along with other similar characteristics, is also the nature of Change.
Characteristics of Change
There are six specific characteristics that differentiate Chronos Change from Kairos Transformation. These have to do with the time frame and frequency, the relationship between positive and negative, the potential level of control that one has, how much can it be predicted and thus prepared for, the amount of pain and loss experienced, and who are engaged agents. Finally, there is a set of associated terms that are most similar to Chronos Change.
A primary characteristic of Chronos Change is the time frame involved and the frequency of which it happens: always, long-term, slow, and steady. The reality of change is that it is always happening. Seasons change, markets change, politics change, times change. Since Chronos Change is always happening, it is thus taking place over a long period of time, happening slowly and steadily.
A second characteristic of Chronos Change is its relationship between the positive vis-a-vis the negative. Chronos Change is either toward the positive OR toward the negative, and is never both positive and negative. Because Chronos Change is always happening, it can either be attended to or it can be ignored. If ignored, change naturally tilts toward entropy where a lack of order or predictability increases and the system gradually declines into disorder. This is the negative path of Chronos Change. Alternatively, if energy is put into the system the result of change will be positive. An easy example of this is an individual’s physical health: if discounted and ignored, one’s body will degrade into a multitude of unhealthy conditions. But, if one regularly exercises, eats healthy, and rests frequently, they a long and prosperous life can follow. Thankfully, we individuals and organizations have great control over the direction toward disintegration or integration.
The third characteristic of Chronos Change concerns the prospect of control. Just as one has a great say in their own physical health, emotional health, or general development, organizations have significant amount of control whether change will lead toward the positive or the negative. Indeed, the entire practice/discipline of “organizational development” aims to make better organizations that are more efficient, productive, capable, developmental, creative, beneficial, and many other positive things. But, as noted above, this positive trajectory is not inevitable and must be pursued. If we, as individuals and organizations, understand that we have great control on the course of ongoing Chronos Change, then we have taken a significant step toward predicting and preparing that result in positive change.
The fourth characteristic of Chronos Change is a great potential to predict and prepare for its constancy and inevitability because there is a high degree of control. Since change can be easily seen in the present, it can be (and we argue should be) specifically and favorably prepared for looking to the future. This is the entire notion of strategy. The best strategists are acutely aware of what is, what is shifting, and how to generally respond. This predicting and preparing sets the stage for those on the ground to respond tactically moment-by-moment. What often holds us back from taking control, predicting and preparing for change? Usually it’s the uncertainty involved and, more importantly, the concern for potential pain and loss.
Fortunately, this fifth characteristic of Chronos Change is that while pain and loss might occur, it is, thankfully, at worst minimal and usually not felt at all. Unfortunately, this is a double-edged sword. Change that degrades toward the negative (entropy) is rarely felt day-to-day. In fact, it is entirely normal that when something is not right, when things are going well, we ignore this fact entirely. Why? One reason is that in the short-term, pain and loss are lessened if ignored entirely. But this degradation ultimately leads toward more. Alternatively, as already stated, if energy and effort is put forth, Chronos Change will bend to the positive. This exertion toward the good also requires pain and loss. But only a little. Here again is a choice: do we experience little-to-no pain and loss and try to ignore it and inevitably move toward the negative, or do we accept some pain and loss and pursue what is positive? But who, from the individual level to the organizational level, has input into Chronos Change?
The sixth and final characteristic of change pertains to who is involved in it: anyone and everyone who is in and associated with the system. Agents of change, both positive and negative, are at every level. Those who opt out of pursuing positive change allow the entropy of the system to degrade the organization. But if there are many agents pursuing positive change and if they are spread out from bottom to top of the organization, then there is a great chance that the Chronos Change will result in the positive. Not everyone within an organization, and not every part of an individual, has to be a positive agent of change; they just have to outweigh those individuals or parts who are resigned.
Other terms that are appropriate to use with Chronos Change include flexibility or adaptability, alteration or modification, adjustment or amendment, and evolution or progression.
Models of Change
Change is a topic widely discussed and deeply debated both with the academy and by practitioners within a variety of fields, from large arenas like organizational and leadership development, international studies, business and economics, to much smaller levels of physical and mental health, education and professional development, and to “self-help” and general personal development. Two of the common and most widely known models span nearly 80 years but are strikingly similar.
The field of organizational development began in the 1930s and 1940s with the works of German-American Kurt Lewin. Lewin is widely regarded as the founder of social-psychology and is known for the creation of action research, applied research, and group dynamics and communication. His legacy continues today with his theory of change that includes three stages: unfreeze, change, and refreeze. To unfreeze, there must be a recognition of the need for change, decisions made about what is to change, an encouragement to replace the old with the new, assurance that key players are on board, and acceptance and addressing concerns and misgivings. The change then takes place, beginning with a plan and then an implementation of the change, all along assisting stakeholders in learning new concepts, skills, abilities, and aims. Then to solidify these changes (to refreeze them), they must be stabilized by having them integrated into the “normal” way of doing things, developing ways and people to sustain the change, and celebrating the successful transition. His three-stage model is still widely practiced and discussed today as a basic understanding of how to create change.
Then, in the late 1990s, a “new” model of change became popular. In Leading Change, John Kotter introduced an 8-step model that is divided into 3 stages. The first stage focuses on creating the climate for change by establishing a sense of urgency, forming a powerful guiding coalition, and creating a vision for the change. The second stage is where the whole organization is engaged and enabled by communicating the vision so that there will be buy-in, empowering others to action toward that vision, and planning for and creating short-term wins. Finally, the change must be implemented and sustained by never letting up on the need to create more change and institutionalize changes into the organizational culture. While more detailed than Lewin’s 3-stage model, many practitioners have pointed out that it is not so dissimilar than Lewin’s model from the early 20th century. Regardless, Kotter’s 8-step model has become widely used in many industries in many areas of the world.
There is a universal understanding of the importance of attending to change. An important way to understand change is to understand the notion of Chronos time. This, along with unique characteristics concerning time frame and frequency, positive vis-à-vis negative, the prospect for control, predictability and preparedness, pain and loss, and agents involved, create a unique understanding of what is “change.” This distinction of what is change and what is transformation is critical for individuals, organizations, and every unit size in between. Where this article has focused on what change is, the third article in this series will focus on the specifics of what is transformation.
Dr. Derek Olson is the Managing Partner of Global Consulting & Training at The Ubuntu Group. He holds a PhD in Leadership Studies: Cross-Cultural Organizational and Leadership Development from the University of San Diego’s (USD) School of Leadership and Education Sciences. In addition to his organizational consulting work, he teaches at USD’s School of Business on topics of organizational behavior, organizational development, and leading across cultures. Together he and his wife serve others through The Oak Stone Project that seeks to create spaces that create.