People and solutions are chosen specifically for familiarity, consistency and constancy. Challengers to the status quo are avoided. When we take this approach out of the business world and apply it to the natural world, nature quickly gives us its answer: extinction.
We are always impressed when it comes to stories about transformation. We marvel at the before and after photos of a house renovation, a beauty makeover, a weight loss transformation or something similar. The media bombard us with images. TV shows dedicated to change, grab viewers’ attention with unfolding stories, pending the big moment of revelation.
Why is it then that in the world of business, we witness and participate in failed or mediocre change initiatives? What can we learn from broader observations to better initiate and execute change?
Observations from the real world
Companies initiate change for a number of valid but often overdue reasons. The indicators they use to gauge performance often lag behind the dynamics of competition and innovation.
Some change projects are initiated to deal with nagging risks which could cause damage should the risks be realised. Rather than wait for the proverbial ‘heart attack’, some organisations prefer to deal with the issue upfront. Others wait so long, that even after the ‘heart attack’ occurs, they still don’t act.
To cite an example, a large company was warned time and again about chronic underinvestment in its main datacentre. For years, the warnings went unheeded and investment was diverted away. When the inevitable happened and the datacentre suffered a major outage, the responsible manager was criticised and then forced out of the organisation.
The argument used by the executive management was simple: it was the responsibility of the manager in charge to raise the issues time and again, no matter how difficult or unpopular. This was just like a doctor telling a patient to change lifestyle or risk a major health incident. When the incident occurred, the doctor was blamed and then replaced.
This type of corporate procrastination results in staff 'battle fatigue'. It harms the very people responsible for raising issues and protecting the organisation from itself.
People need to understand the change, internalise it, or they will resist and resent it.
People and modifying behaviour
During a change programme to implement a new financial system, it was discovered that the sponsor had been misled about the timeline. His own people had proposed an impossibly short shorter transition. When the sponsor found out, he was slow to act. He was advised to replace those who had misled him as there was clearly a competency/capability gap. His reluctance to replace the people cost time and money. Ultimately the people were replaced but the damage was done.
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