As an executive or entrepreneur you want to adapt your company to a changing environment. Ideally you anticipate change, to create an advantage over your competitors. For this you want to get your organization moving. It would be great if this motion is effortless: everyone works together seamlessly and does what needs to be done. The organization is so well connected with its environment that change actually takes place automatically, it is inherent in your organization. In other words: the organization is responsive.
It appears, however, that most companies have a limited capability to change successfully. Do we understand why that is?
Managing change is difficult…
Why is it, for example, that about 70% of the planned transformation programs in businesses do not achieve their goals or simply fail? Why do between 70 and 90% of all mergers and acquisitions fail? How come that so many companies have a great marketing plan, but in practice hardly succeed in standing out from the competition? Why do so many tenders – ICT projects, infrastructure, etc. – run out of the budgeted time and costs? Why are stress and burnouts within companies such a big problem nowadays? All these problems have a common denominator: managing change turns out to be more difficult than expected.
In an article in the Harvard Business Review publication ‘10 Must Reads On Change Management’, the now retired Harvard Professor John Paul Kotter, who has studied over one hundred transformation processes, shares his lessons learnt. The following is a quote from his article ‘Leading Change’:
“…the change process goes through a series of [eight] phases that, in total, usually require a considerable length of time. Skipping steps creates only the illusion of speed and never produces a satisfying result...[…]…critical mistakes in any of the phases can have a devastating impact, slowing momentum and negating hard-won gains…[…]…even very capable people often make at least one big error.”
In other words: successful change management is hardly feasible. And the numbers above support the notion that successful change management is rare.
Organize for success
This is because, in many cases companies do not organize for success. By that we do not mean organization charts, KPI’s, reporting lines or meeting schedules. These are usually well in place. Maybe sometimes a little too much.
No, we mean that the plans take insufficient account of people and their relationships. For example: are people energized by the company’s strategy or change plan? Does everyone do what he or she wants to do – and does that match their abilities? Is there sufficient agreement on the goals and priorities – both within teams and between teams and managers? Is there enough focus, or is the number of priorities so great that no focus is possible? And do the teams involved have sufficient capacity to realize the change?
In one of our earlier blogs we have shed some light on this. For example, 70% of teams involved in change processes do not agree with their management on the objectives or priorities. Over 60% of teams have to deal with too many objectives and priorities – either giving them a sense that their ambitions are not realistic or not focused. In the article we have described other (scientifically researched) factors which deal with people, their interactions and relationships. The results clarify that these factors are often overlooked in the scheme of things, creating unnecessary friction that hampers the realization of ambitions.
Responsive organizations adapt organically because people are inspired to contribute to change, not because they are ‘managed’ to.
The ability to change is an organizational skill
The ability to change is a skill that is already present in the people of your organization. Too much friction diminishes that ability. A good fit between people increases this ability to change.
The point is to create the right conditions in your organization so that people are triggered to take action. And move together towards the company goals. This is what inspires change. It then is initiated from within and not imposed by a management program. Wouldn’t that be much more fun and effective?