You may have seen my interview last year with Henley Business School, talking about how to succeed with corporate change, and the need for organisations to invest enough time upfront to ensure that people are involved in co-developing the solution, and that they can see benefits of the change along the way. This will give you the best chance of the transformation being sustainable.
That’s easy enough to write down on paper but how do you make this a reality when organisations are faced with so many business problems they need to solve, with shareholders or stakeholders demanding change both immediately, and in the long-term.
In my view one of the key decisions you need to make upfront as a leader is the right pace of change that is going to work for your organisation. So what does this mean?
Often people think transformation is about making a rapid change that is seen in bright lights as a big departure from the previous way of working. So leaders will put a lot of emphasis on pushing the changes through very quickly to show momentum.
Now this has a lot of merit – and is consistent with the core theme of the widely read book ‘Sense of Urgency’ (Kotter, 2008). However, I think many leaders now apply these ideas uniformly without thinking about what pace the organisation can cope with to make the changes sustainable.
Change is now a constant within every organisation, but simply rushing through a change for the sake of it, is likely to break down over time because people haven’t had the time to understand, develop and own the changes that they and their teams will need to make personally.
If you’ve ever been responsible for asking your own children, grandchildren or nieces/ nephews to get ready for school, you will know that suddenly changing the schedule and asking them to get ready 20 minutes earlier, or cycle rather than walk to school, often ends in disaster and stress for everyone. Humans are not programmed to immediately welcome change and it takes time to adapt.
That is not to say that change needs to be slow or that the prevailing culture cannot be shifted. Far from it. Some organisations are used to taking longer and being more collaborative but need to be encouraged to reach decisions earlier in order to be more efficient and focused. However, moving to a more rapid approach must be done in stages, so that people both understand and can work out what they need to do differently.
And of course it can work the other way. Some organisations that are used to flexible and rapid decision making may benefit from taking a little longer to build consensus so the changes stick. However they will not welcome a new initiative that suddenly involves lots of workshops with a wide group of employees that is seen as ‘creating delay’. Again it is about gradually shifting the approach in steps, so that leaders can see the value of taking a little longer to engage people.
Neither pace is wrong but in my experience the vital thing is to make sure you are working with the grain of the company and not against it, and then gradually change from there. Making this conscious decision as a change leader, and finding the optimum balance, will have a financial return later in the project. It will either avoid wasted time while decisions are stuck in the ether, or having to re-invigorate the change again when it hasn’t stuck the first time. And you never know, the school run may well become a smoother process over time…..