A strategy for change

THE common organisational response to problems of most types, and to perceived opportunities, is to advocate that a change is necessary. Such changes are an inherent part of whatever solutions or plans are proposed.

Thus problems and opportunities demand solutions or plans and solutions or plans demand changes to the ways and means in which things get done and often, also, changes to the very goals and objectives for which the organisation is striving.

The ultimate purpose of pro-active organisational change, as opposed to reactive and ad hoc change, is to make better use of environmental change and the challenges and opportunities that arise from such change, or to improve current perform-ance both individually and organisationally in order to achieve required goals.

Changing objectives, procedures, structure, equipment or staff is relatively easy but to assume that such activities constitute real change for the better is a fallacy. In other words, it is possible to amend the aim of doing things, to alter the way things are done and the people who do these things and the equipment used, but end up with no change in terms of the improvement purpose described above.

It’s a case of change without change or, at worst, change with negative results, a not uncommon occurrence it seems if the research literature can be believed and anecdotal evidence is given value.

An example is the large-scale research carried out in Europe by The Networking Firm in 1997 into the effects and results of big organisations attempts to transform themselves via techniques such as re-engineering and restructuring.

They found there were many failures due to such things as lack of awareness of all options, naïve faith in a single solution, a tendency to squeeze more out of what they have, failure to think things through and see consequences, emphasis on the short term and a belief that change is a speedy process, and, most tellingly, a focus on “things” rather than people.

My view is that change is not just a question of changing means or ends or both, but is mainly a question of changing the mind set of the people called on to change and getting them to apply that mind set in a constructive manner. Change becomes the norm not the exception.

As re-engineering guru Gary Hamel has stated, “to create the incentive within an organisation to think seriously about its future strategy, you first have to create a deep sense of restlessness with the status quo”.

In fact, without mind set change, changes to ends and means usually result in the failures found by The Networking Firm.

As noted above, it is relatively easy to change objectives, equipment and procedures, but it is extremely difficult to gain acceptance for the changes and their implementation.

The words of Niccolo Machiavelli are relevant here. “Nothing is more difficult to carry out nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to manage than to initiate a new order of things.

“For the initiator has the enmity of all who would profit by preservation of the old system, and merely lukewarm defenders in those who would gain by the new one.”

Mind set change requires a process that is analogous to the process of diffusion in science and it this process that I recommend as the basis for creating and maintaining real organisational change.

Whatever change steps are taken, there are three fundamental requirements without which the steps will not succeed whatever way they are implemented. These are:

A change mind set must be developed in every member of the organisation.

n Change must be seen as a diffusion process that can occur from the top down, the bottom up or across the organisation - but preferably, in all three channels.

n Managers must be prepared to give up a quantum of power in order to engender a change mind set and to sponsor the diffusion process.

n Managers in organisations have a prime responsibility to improve performance, but other staff can also play a key role in initiating improvement.

History tells us that performance improvement means change and change must be understood and accepted by all staff if it is to be implemented successfully.

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