Within many large organisations it can be difficult to get things done quickly. Organisations that operate at scale have, by necessity, strict processes and organisation structures that enable them to do what they do without descending into chaos. These structures and processes allow large organisations to consistently serve their customers and grow at steady rates. This is great until the operating environment they shaped their business around suddenly changes.
Enabling is about understanding the forces slowing or likely to slow change down and then finding ways to either minimise the impact or work around it. Think of it as organisational “friction” working against the desire to move forward. The aim is to clear the path so change can happen more quickly.
The way organisations are structured, departmental objectives are set and how success is measured can have a dramatic effect on an organisation’s ability to adapt quickly. If delivery of change frustrates an individual or department’s ability to deliver their personal objectives then, regardless of how much they believe in it they will be conflicted and will tend to go for the short term gain vs the longer term objective. In psychology they call the Problem of Instant Gratification (PIG). The next email, the next quarter results, the next announcement, the share price.
Organisations, departments, countries or any distinct group of people will also have “their way of doing things”. These are the combined behaviours, customs, language, networks and social norms known as culture. Failing to understand and pay attention to the cultural norms can have a dramatic effect on the success of any change. What works with one group of people may be considered completely inappropriate in a different group and will manifest as resistance.
Fear of failure can also slow us down. We know that the road to success is littered with failures and yet in most large companies we tend to avoid failure at all cost. Failure can be career ending, so many people, regardless of seniority, will tend to protect themselves and play safe. That limits our ability to take the right decisions, tending to lead us to the safe ones instead. Anything worth doing involves pushing the boundaries and, by definition, failure is therefore a given if anything useful is to happen. Consider how, in the early days of the digital era, the music industry focused more on protecting their physical business than embracing the digital world, despite all the evidence pointing to the fact that digital was the future.
The point is that these things can’t necessarily be changed easily and are a natural part of business life. But for any change to succeed, there needs to be a recognition of what they are and attention given to reducing the impact they can have. Failing to do that will increase the level of change weariness, conflict and ultimately either slow it down or derail it altogether.
Think of Enabling as recognising then reducing the “friction” that is slowing you down or could do so in future. It’s rather like brushing the ice in a game of curling.