Chasing change : building organizational capacity in a turbulent environment

Authors: Robert C. Thames and Douglas W. Webster

This book is about change management. More specifically, building the change capacity of the organization.

The book starts with a first part about ‘Awareness’: changes can come from everywhere, and change management helps to optimize the survival in a changing environment. With their example of hurricanes and earthquakes, the intuitive link with risk management is immediate. One of the most important starting points of the book, is the importance of the ‘mindset’ of the employees as well as the organizational ‘mindset’: is it a ‘fixed’ mindset in which a changeable environment is impossible, or is it a ‘growth and development mindset’ in which a person and an organization are flexible with regard to a changing environment.

This last mindset is of great importance for the ‘change challenge framework’. So called first order changes and second order changes are important. A first order change is the change that results from a shift of the needs of the environment in relation to the capacities of the organization to meet those needs of the environment. A ‘targeted change gap’ is that portion of the first order change that one wants to close from the ‘First Order Change Gap’ (the total current first order change difference).

A second order change is the actual response of the organization with the intent to close the ‘targeted change gap’.

This results in a so-called ‘Second Order Change Gap’ due to maladjustment of the organization, especially by only filling in the physical dimension and a lack of softness on the changes. In doing so, the term ‘project plan’ is used to indicate the completion of the physical dimension, and the term ‘change plan’ to indicate changes in the organization and the personal mindsets. (This is the closing of the second order change gap).

As you can see, a fairly complex picture emerges, which requires its own terminology.

The second part of the book deals with only one part of the closing of the second order change gap, namely the development of organizational capacities for the possibility of change. The 13 capacities that are being looked at are:

  • Leadership
  • Commitment
  • Liability
  • Thinking forward
  • Innovation
  • Communication
  • Risk tolerance
  • Organizational learning
  • Trust
  • Diversity
  • Empowerment
  • Adaptability
  • Dynamic stability


For each of these topics, the book provides a chapter with a definition and a checklist for a five-point scale. This five-point scale can be used to assess both the current situation and the desired situation.

Chapter 20 discusses the implementation of the change plan. This is further illustrated in Chapter 21 by means of an action plan from a brand new CEO at the so-called ‘Candor Bank’. Chapter 22 provides a case study of hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005 with the aim to illustrate the ‘change model and capability assessment’. In chapter 23, the conclusion, a short summary is given of the main ideas of the entire book.

Manu Steens

Manu works at the Flemish Government in risk management and Business Continuity Management. On this website, he shares his own opinions regarding these and related fields. Since 2012, he has been working at the Crisis Centre of the Flemish Government (CCVO), where he has progressed in BCM, risk management, and crisis management. Since August 2021, he has been a knowledge worker for the CCVO. As of January 2024, he works at the Department of Chancellery and Foreign Affairs of the Flemish Government. Here, he combines BCM, risk management, and crisis management to create a tailored form of resilience management to meet the needs of the Flemish Government.

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