Change management must evolve

I read an interesting post on Torben Rick’s blog on “Why change management needs to change”.

Torben opens with “Leaders are confronted with an increasing rate of change and complexity and need to find ways to deal with it. As a recognized discipline, change management has been in existence for over half a century. Yet despite the huge investment that companies have made in tools, training and thousands of books, most studies still show a 60-70% failure rate for organisational change projects – a statistic that has stayed constant from the 1970′s to the present.” And concludes with “Everyone agrees that change management is important. Making it happen effectively, however, needs to be a core competence of managers and not something that they can pass off to others.”

As usual a nicely written and informative post by Torben. I agree with what he has to say.

But I would like to throw a spanner in the works!

So change management as a discipline has been in existence for half a century or more. Despite the plethora of knowledge, learnings and expertise such initiatives still face a high failure rate (60-70% failure rate for organisational change projects).

What are we doing wrong?

Could it be simply the lack of desire of the majority (or influential minority) in an organisation to actually change.  These are often the sceptical ones. The ones who like to point fingers when the change fails and say I told you so. I certainly have come across my fair share of these cynics.

I agree with Torben that “don’t view change as a discrete event to be managed, but as a constant opportunity to evolve the business”. But the exponential growth in change, especially how the need for change has escalated in the last decade or two, means organisations have to go radically further.

“Mobilizing employees, engaging them successfully, motivating them, informing them, using the talent and potential of people and teams, it all is crucial.” All true.

But the effort to get to this position is costly. For those organisations, where they have to invest, time, energy, resources, money to get their people to adopt proposed change, are at a serious disadvantage to those organisations (worst still if these other organisations are direct competitors) where people are already on-board, embracing change as a daily opportunity to improve (not only themselves but their teams, departments and organisations).

Unfortunately the pace of change for organisations is increasing. It has been this way for the last decade or so and is increasing year on year. Organisations that are reluctant or slow to change fail. Nimble competitors simply take control of the market place and squeeze incumbents out.

The agility of these nimble firms is unprecedented compared to what existed two decades ago. Such firms typically employ like-minded people who collaborate effectively and embrace the organisations change culture. When such an organisation needs to adapt and change, the people are willing and able to flex. Change then happens rapidly.

Look at video rental firm Blockbuster. A decade ago, Blockbuster was thriving, the dominant source for movie rentals, with market capitalization of $6B and a powerful brand name and superior market share. During this decade numerous forms of competitors entered the market all vying for a slice of the entertainment distributor pie. Blockbuster focused on what it did best, a provider of physical movie and game rentals…until it was too late. Boom and bust in a touch over 20 years!

Customers have limited or no brand loyalty. They happily moved to Blockbuster’s competitors, those that saved them time, money and provided greater flexibility and convenience. Customers recognised the benefits and embraced these changes. Blockbuster didn’t for some time, then tried to reposition itself but alas it was too little too late. Now we have countless empty Blockbuster stores across the globe.

Change management is crucial. But change management needs to evolve. It needs to embrace a more agile mentality. Plus in order to make change happen more readily and effectively, it needs to be a core competency of leaders, managers and employees alike. A collaborative approach across a broad spectrum of people in order to affect change across the organisation. This means that change happens rapidly and has a higher chance of success.

This begs the question. Is there a place in an organisation for those unwilling (or too slow) to change?

What do you think?

4 responses to “Change management must evolve

  1. Yes!!

    There is always a place within a business for loyal, hardworking and trusted employees even if they are resistant to change. The challenge is supporting such individuals to embrace the change that is initiated. The success of any change initiative is dependent on the skill and interpersonal skills of the leadership team. People are not the same, they are individuals and should be treated as such. Change should be initiated and led by the leadership teams. My view is there is no place within a leadership team for someone who is resistant to change

    Great Article – love your work!

    • Hi Tim,

      Thank you for your response, much appreciated. Super, there is someone else who agrees.

      I agree that there is little place within a leadership team for someone who is resistant to change…it is an all or nothing approach. Such resistance detracts from the essential work required. Often compelling increased and unnecessary resistance across the organisation.

      Several years ago I was recruited to manage an 18 month business transformation programme. During the interviews I was informed that the leadership team (all the team) had bought into the strategic initiative, all had signed off on it and their individual business unit were supportive. Maybe a touch naïve. The 18 month timescale was tight and assumed the leadership fully supported the change.

      On my first day my boss, also a member of the leadership team, informed me that only two thirds of the leadership team were onboard. (He had expected to persuade/influence them prior to my start date, but this had not gone according to plan. Political manoeuvrings if I recall.). Now my first task was to pull together a portfolio of “business benefit ammunition” to be used to convince these sceptic detractors. I had a month to do this.

      Failure of this task (obtaining full support) would result in the programme being cancelled and my services no longer being required. The challenge was set.

      In that first month the resistance was quashed. The 18 month programme delivered within the original timeframes. Not a total success though. As the initial resistance, at the leadership level, delayed the start and caused additional resistance within business units, this impacted the organisation both financially and through missed benefits and opportunities.

      Such resistance detracts from essential work and there is a price to pay.


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