THE FALLACY OF CHANGE
How many change programs do you know of actually concluded, and accomplished all that was intended?
My bet is it's small: you could count them on one hand. And smaller still once you exclude those which...
• were mere re-badging or re-naming exercises
• morphed into something else, along with a tidy ex post rationalisation (I remember one 'reform' program a few years ago that was supposed to be about reducing staff numbers: when that proved too difficult the program suddenly 'pivoted' into a focus on customer service), or
• were so inconsequential that they hardly mattered anyway (eg. an office move from one side of a floor to another).
Here’s the scoop: change rarely happens. The conditions which must obtain for it to occur* are so rare that it is highly unlikely to eventuate. Proper, programmed change is in most cases a corporate fantasy, an organisational bunyip. At best, it’s a limiting case.
Change is BS.
[* my shopping list of the factors required for successful change: sustained drive and vocal support from senior leadership; an organised approach to identifying and managing stakeholders; constancy of vision; a cogent and aligned system of rewards and sanctions; rigorous, consistent communication; and a well thought-through and consistently measured, reported and utilised set of KPIs]
In my experience it is far more useful to frame things in terms of:
• growth, where an organisation develops through various stages to maturity in the same way as does a living entity (plant, animal or human)
• evolutionary adaptation, where an organisation adapts to its environment (as distinct from changing according to a program per se), or
• leading a breakthrough in technology, engineering or technical understanding.
Anything else lies somewhere between rumour and romantic fable.
So where does this take us?
Having just stated that change is BS I'm not about to try to convince you of the merits of some back-door route to making change work.
Instead of the rhetoric about change, I recommend focusing on making the present effective and starting from there. Where are your existing strengths? What are your key assets - physical and knowledge-based? Where are you vulnerable? Where are the areas of growth and decline in your sector or market? What is your organisation's existing level of maturity (you may wish to use this depiction of the stages of development in putting data to use in decision-making) and where do the next steps naturally take you?
This more humble and organic approach has far greater prospects for success, being grounded as it is in a realistic stocktake of what is, and then going with the grain of your organisation and industry. Read the environment (internal and external), and modify accordingly. Or work to alter some aspect of the conditions in which your organisation functions. Adapt. Adjust.
Few organisations have the discipline to properly characterise their existing conditions and keep their ambitions in check to align with what can feasibly be envisaged, operationalised and accomplished. And few change managers or consultants would enthuse over being referred to as 'stagnation managers' or 'agents of stasis'.
Yet the irony is that simplicity and a clear-headed view of the environment can lead to far, far greater results than the typical change program. Goals naturally emerge and the organisational will to accomplish them is far greater when the landscape has been mapped, particularly when this has been done collaboratively.
So ... where is your organisation at? What is its level of development? What direction is its grain? And how can you adapt accordingly?
Director I Michael Carman Consulting
PO Box 423, Croydon Park NSW 2133 I M: 0414 383 374
© Michael Carman 2018