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/nieces/nephews, to get ready for school you will know that suddenly changing the schedule and asking them to get ready 20 minutes more quickly, 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…..
That is why Bespoke Change focuses on helping clients to think upfront about the pace of change in order to build sustainable change. We have experience of supporting small and large organisations in the public and private sectors to plan successfully for change, through an effective engagement approach. For more information please contact us at www.bespokechange.co.uk
Michael Fekete is the Director of Bespoke Change, a change management consultancy focused on enhancing business benefits and sustainable transformation through the introduction of specialist change, portfolio and programme management techniques.
Prior to this, Michael has 17+ years experience in transformational change, leadership and portfolio/programme roles working across the public and private sectors, on both the client-side and within internal consultancy roles. He spent 10 years in HM Treasury and Infrastructure UK, leading reforms and change in the commercial property, postal and infrastructure sectors, including 3 years as Chief Operating Officer of Infrastructure UK.
More recently Michael spent 5 years in the rail sector, implementing a number of transformation programmes, as well as introducing portfolio and change management capability to drive a more balanced and deliverable transformation agenda. He has an Executive MBA from Henley Business School, and specialised in Change Management. For more information about Bespoke Change please visit www.bespokechange.co.uk