I’ve had the opportunity to preside over ten large-scale change initiatives in complex decentralized organizations, some of which span the globe. One of the things that I’ve come to learn is how organic really good change is.

We live in the era of knowledge work, significantly different than the manufacturing of the industrial age. Knowledge work is about applying what you know in completely unpredictable situations because of the people involved, the context, and other variables.

To understand a change in this domain, people have to digest and understand its implications to choose behavior appropriate to the circumstance they find themselves in. To do that, you have to identify individuals and groups inside your organization who already fundamentally understand the essence or spirit of the change you’re looking for.

Once you’ve identified those people who understand the change, your job as the leader is to help that change spread. Think of it as a growing plant; it’s alive and vital. The goal is to make the plant thrive and become hardy. So how do you do that? What are the equivalents of sunshine, water, nutrients, and soil you need to provide to those in your organization who understand the change?

You may have someone in a very junior role that genuinely understands the change initiative. Then you may have a much more senior person who does not. When you want to implement a change in your organization, you need to know where it already resides, and you need to help it expand naturally by providing it with the nutrients it needs to grow and spread.