Organisational Change: Do We Need To Re-frame Our Thinking?
There are plenty of statistics relating to the difficulties of making big changes in the corporate environment. And most of us will have seen the many headlines pointing to (often catastrophic) failures in both the public and private sector.
We know that making big changes in a large organisations is challenging, but I’d also argue that the statistics are not always helpful. We also need to reframe how we think of change and reconsider our expectations.
There is still a tendency to measure success according to the so-called iron triangle of cost, schedule and quality. As one of our team often says: “Cheap, quick or good. You can pick any two”!
Schedule and cost are often the main focus, which is understandable to a point. They are easy to measure. The trouble is that these are often the worst possible measures and can lead to some very bad decisions.
What does success really look like?
The only measure worth considering in my view is value. In other words what will this change give the business in terms of opportunities, competitive edge, market positioning, cost avoidance and so the list goes on. Sounds obvious right? And yet often completely lost in the mist of schedule, cost and immediate “hard benefits”.
You may recognise the following scenario:
- We have a great idea
- We have a wild guess as to how much it will cost. We underestimate because all humans do apparently
- We adjust those figures downward to get the funding approved. They’d never agree to the real number
- We invent a financial number to represent the benefits. Pure fiction but it looks great in Excel and makes everyone feel good
- We set fixed dates because everyone likes that. We have no idea at this stage what it will take to get it done though. That’s just detail. We still feel great
- It takes way longer than we thought, costs at least double and we’re only half way through. Everyone feels bad
- It either gets canned or grudgingly accepted but with more project management layers added. That slows it down even more and adds even more cost
- Everyone feels bad and wonders why it was such a failure
- We hunt for the guilty, punish the innocent and reward the uninvolved
Change is, by definition, a journey into the unknown and, as any successful entrepreneur will tell you, failure and success go hand in hand, you can’t have one without the other. To do anything worthwhile we have to be prepared to fail, otherwise nothing useful will happen. And as long as we keep moving forward then we’ll either make progress or we’ll learn something, which is also making progress. Staying in business is about learning quicker than those around us.
If we come to accept change for what it really is and view it in a different way then we may find we are better at it than we think.
Mark has over 25 years’ experience of fast paced transformational change, often in highly complex and political situations. He co-founded Applied Change 10 years ago with a clear purpose to push the thinking on human behaviour and human centred change. Most recently he’s been working closely with University of the West of England (UWE) Psychological Sciences Research Group to develop simple, practical models and tools that re-orientate our approach to business change, starting from the human perspective.