The truth is that for all the thinking about change, it still causes all sorts of problems in organisations. Whatever variant of change you are engaged in – transformations, continuous improvement, reorganisations, restructuring, launching new products and services, dealing with mergers and de-mergers, behavioural change, implementing new technology, digitisation and a hundred and one other types of initiative - organisations find it hard.
There are many different reasons why organisations struggle with change. Get a group of people who have been involved in change into a workshop. Without difficultly they will generate a long list of reasons why organisations struggle with change. Better than this, they will usually come up with some solutions. It’s a sign of how much thinking has been done on change, that for each of the reasons there is usually a potential solution, sometimes several!
The multiplicity of solutions
Many solutions to the challenges of change have been designed and strongly advocated by one or other change "expert".
For instance, your attention may be drawn to leadership styles, empowerment and distributed decision making. Focus may be encouraged on developing change management skills across the organisation. Increased innovation may be sought after. Values and behaviours may be re-orientated towards those that enable creativity and flexibility. Organisational structures may be altered, away from traditional centralised hierarchies towards self-managing teams. Delivery leaders may be encouraged to abandon traditional waterfall project management for approaches such as Agile, Kanban and lean development. Traditional flows of projects through stages may be reconsidered in the light of dev-ops.
And this is just scratching the surface. The list of solutions is long. Very long. Very, very long!
A wider perspective
Each of these solutions have their part to play. But unless the change is looked at as an end-to-end capability then attempts to improve it will be ad-hoc, uncoordinated and limited in effect.
For instance, there is little point speeding up project delivery if your organisation’s capacity to absorb change is not also increased. There is limited benefit from enhanced project delivery, if ideas for new projects still languish and mobilisation takes forever. There is little point encouraging innovation, if there is no outlet for all those fabulous new ideas, or you do not also challenge behaviours and incentive plans which discourage the new. There is no point advocating change, if you never reap benefits from the changes you make.
Your effectiveness at change is not the result of a series of independent factors. It is the result of the whole change capability in your organisation and the inter-relationship between the different contributors to change. Your change capability is a result of many features of the organisation. It is a capability that should a core element of an organisation’s operating model. Considering the inter-relationship between the many aspects of change, tools like operating models, systems dynamics and even theory of constraints can be helpful in thinking through your change capability.
Step 1 in developing a really effective change capability is to think it through from an end-to-end perspective: from the origination of ideas for change, through to lasting sustained improvements in the organisation. The next era in improving change capabilities needs to move on from point solutions, as even the most powerful point solutions don't provide enough of the answer. A better answer is to seek to knit those solutions into an effective end-to-end capability.
This is the part of change that interests me most, and one I and a group of colleagues have been thinking hard about. We are probably not alone. There is no perfect model of every aspect that is a critical component of an organisation's change capability. Not yet at least. Developing this model will be strengthened by the views of the many. It's still early days.
What do you think?