Change is difficult for many people and particularly hard if you dont know why things should change. Ive had the opportunity to see the inside of many companies and one thing Ive noticed is that every one of them has an optimal rate of change. For example, I recently had the pleasure of working with a great company where there were many long term employees. The executive management team had been with the company nearly twenty years.
I was asked by the CEO to assess their technical capabilities and readiness for a growth spurt that he expected because the economic conditions were right for a series of acquisitions. As I went about interviewing the staff, I found that many of them had no idea why I was there and were nervous about what my report might mean for them. I found that the line managers where doing their job as they had always done it without taking a critical look at why they did it a particular way.
This is an example of a culture that was ossified and change was an anathema. There are many companies out there with that same kind of mindset. The attitude is that change upsets people and therefore its a bad thing. In these kinds of cultures the only way to inject change is to show that change can be a positive thing by initiating changes that bring a large benefit to a small cross-functional group. Those changes can be easily absorbed and the small group becomes the seed for spreading the word that change doesnt hurt.
One of the risk factors in initiating change is understanding the rate of change the organization can absorb. Its a bit like planting ground cover, a few little plants here and there, wait awhile and pretty soon theyre everywhere. The same thing happens when you introduce change in an organization. If you gradually introduce the change and let everyone get used to it in small increments, the change will be more likely to be accepted. But if you try a big bang and change everything at once, people get uncomfortable and odds of making a successful change go down.
Theres no easy answer to changing an organizations attitude toward change. You have to understand the organization, its goals, and its culture to assess what rate and volume of change it can absorb. While evaluating your own organization's tolerance for change you will want to think about:
Preparing the company for continuous change is one of the things can be done to reduce the risk of change. Putting mechanisms in place to respond positively to change and take advantage of it will give the business a better chance of survival in a world that is constantly changing. Knowing the organizational and using your best judgment on what rate of change can be absorbed is the best way to keep the company moving forward.
Mike Scheuerman is an independent consultant with more than 30 years experience in strategic business planning and implementation. His experience from the computer room to the boardroom provides a broad spectrum view of how technology can be integrated with and contributes significantly to business strategy. Mike can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.