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Building Change Adaptability Using the Greiner Maturity Model

January 10, 2021

Models, while appearing to many people as boring and immaterial to the real world, do have a very useful role to play in helping us understand better the dynamics of change. In the context of this post, they help explain how leadership can play an integral part in enabling people to become engaged in the workplace. The outcome is greater change adaptability and resilience.

One helpful model is Larry Greiner’s growth curve, consisting of six phases and five dimensions. Greiner developed his growth model to help organizations think about how they’re adapting to a changing external environment. Building a strong change capacity is instrumental to an organization’s evolution and long-term success. His model is depicted below.

Greiner’s sixth phase (added after his model was first developed) involves collaborative partnerships, alliances and mergers as part of the organizational change continuum. Many organizations have not, or will not, reach that level of maturity for a number of reasons, key ones being:

a) the time needed to evolve and to successfully transition to the next phase;
b) the presence of dynamic, visionary leadership that’s capable of taking effective action;
c) an engaged workforce that’s focused on creativity, innovation and doing things differently.

As much as models are important instruments to help organizations position themselves for the future, it’s equally important to descend from the 40,000 foot level to the real organizational world to figure out how to adapt to unrelenting change. Therefore, to make effective use of Greiner’s model a systematic process of individual and collective reflection and inquiry will yield greater impact for organizational improvement.

Understanding the Greiner growth curve provides the necessary foundation for helping frame the conversation in your organization. Refer to the table below which summarizes key aspects of each of the phases, along the first five main categories. These steps are best carried out in teams across the organization, and at all levels. For example, those who are involved in setting the organization’s strategic direction need to contribute to this process; the questions posed below may be incorporated into your next strategic planning process.

Step One
Collectively reflect about where you and your co-workers see your organization on Greiner’s growth curve. Then ask yourselves:
a) Why are we at this point on the curve?
b) What brought us there?
c) What has our journey been as an organization to reach this point?

Step Two
Think about whether your organization is reaching the end of a stable period of growth and nearing a ‘crisis’ or transition. Some of the signs of ‘crisis’ include:
a) Employees feel that managers and corporate policies are getting in the way of how they them perform their jobs.
b) They feel that they’re not being fairly rewarded for their efforts.
c)Morale is poor, with high turnover and low productivity being the consequence.

Now ask yourself what the transition will mean for you personally, and what it will mean for your team. Will you need to:
1) Explore new ways on how to share leadership among the team’s members?
2) Determine your value-added to the team?
3) Change the way you communicate with others?
4) Adjust how recognition is done for your team?
5) Examine where new market opportunities for your products or services?

Step Three
As part of leaving behind the phase through which your organization has just travelled, engage your team members in the following activities:
a) Plan and take preparatory actions that will make the next transition as smooth as possible for you and your team.
b) Where do you see your organization on the growth curve in the next 12 months?
c) Revisit Greiner’s model for growth again every 6-12 months, and think about how your current stage of growth affects you and others around you.

An additional tool that can be used to assess your organization’s learning capability along the different phases and at the key crisis points is the Learning Organization Assessment (see page 20)

Take time with your team to answer the questions, and then score the answers using the guide. From there, initiate the needed conversations and actions to address where you scored low.
Change is a messy business. It’s not a linear process, nor one that can be easily anticipated.

As Peter Senge, author of the acclaimed The Fifth Discipline, has stated: “Through learning we re-create ourselves. Through learning we become able to do something we never were able to do. Through learning we re-perceive the world and our relationship to it. Through learning we extend our capacity to create, to be part of the generative process of life.”

The key to an organization being capable of making the transition from the old to the new is to create the needed time for individual and team reflection and inquiry. In doing so, this separates those organizations that will continue to grow and evolve in a volatile change environment that does not accept the status quo as the answer.

It’s about being adaptable to change.

There can be no life without change, and to be afraid of what is different or unfamiliar is to be afraid of life.
―Theodore Roosevelt

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