A healthy organization's vision for itself is never full realized because as it becomes better at what it does the goal line continues to move. Thus the gap between vision and reality is always a reality for healthy organizations.
There are seven common responses to organizational change and to the gap between vision and reality. Understanding how people respond and why they respond the way they do can help leaders negotiate the whitewater of change and deal with the responses that follow from change and the space between current reality and desired future.
The continuum of responses runs from resistors to change to active evangelists of change.
Resisters. Resisters can come in two forms, active and passive. These are the people who don't like change, or are so vested in the past that they cannot envision the future - or don't want to. Active resisters are vocal about their opposition to the future being articulated. There are also passive resisters who pay lip service to the new future but do not bring their actions into alignment with it. They quietly rather than actively resist.
Cynics. Cynics choose to believe that there are ulterior motives behind the change being proposed. Typically, they are deeply cynical toward leadership and therefore transfer their cynicism toward the ideas that leaders propose. They will often see change as the flavor of the month and figure that given time the proposed changes will go away and the organization will go back to what it was. Cynics will often call attention to the gap between where a leader is calling the organization and where it is - using that gap as proof that the vision is either unattainable or foolish.
Loyal followers. These are individuals who like organizational clarity and who appreciate its articulation - whatever it is. They appreciate clear leadership and simply want to know what the direction is and they will follow that direction. While they will not necessarily promote change, they will gladly move in the direction that leaders propose, trusting those leaders in their direction.
Idealists. These are individuals who readily grab on to the vision of the future, embrace it, love it and expect that the organization will be there today. The up side is that they embrace the vision quickly. The down side is that they can easily become disillusioned and critical when change does not happen at the pace or in the way they desire. It is very difficult for idealists to be patient or accept gaps between vision and reality.
Realists. Realists understand both where the organization is trying to go and where it currently is. They understand the challenges of change, will not stand in the way of change and usually are not overly bothered by the gap.
Change agents. These individuals not only embrace the future, understand the past and present but they actively work all the time to close the gap between vision and reality. They take responsibility in their areas of influence and leadership to personally work on closing the gap. They are voices in the organization for the preferred future and work well with leaders who are the evangelists of change. In many ways, change agents are the guiding coalition for leaders seeking to bring change.
Evangelists for change. These are the leaders who are actively engaged in helping the organization move from reality to their preferred vision, and calling others to join them in the effort. They explain change, are architects of the new, and do all that they can to help move the organization from where it is to where it needs to go. They are deeply realistic about what is, deeply passionate about what must be and have the resolve to see the process through.
Two questions present themselves. First, where are you on this continuum in a change process and where are those around you? Understanding your position and that of others helps one understand the various responses to change and attitudes and actions related to change.