Today, the time to complete projects is shortening and the line to deliver results is infinitely steeper.
Change itself is changing and to respond effectively we need to alter the way that we approach and handle change projects. The amount of activity, the frequency of projects and the requirement to adapt quickly is ever increasing.
If we think of a graph that maps the degree of change over time, it seems that for many businesses, the line is getting steeper. Technological advancements, global competition and the availability of knowledge and information online, all mean that the pace of change is accelerating. Once we might have been able to take our time, gradually transforming our organisations. Today, the time to complete projects is shortening and the line to deliver results is infinitely steeper.
Any change that is below the line can be seen as evolutionary change, perhaps things that even your own people don’t notice. But when it comes to accelerating growth, then it will definitely be revolutionary. This might not just be a large project, such as opening or closing a plant and office or investing in new facilities. Sometimes it can be about changing the attitudes and behaviours of people in the business as much as equipment, buildings and processes.
Our interpretation is that the steeper the line, the greater the challenge for management and leadership. If we don’t proactively manage the process, communicate with and involve people in the change, then our results will trail our ambition. And that’s something that we cannot accept. In our experience, when managers are proactive the better equipped they are to manage, communicate and engage people leading to more effective change, with success even beyond our own expectations.
So what is it that gets in the way? What stops managers being successful? Quite often it is fear. Managers don’t really know how to address change and even at top management levels we often find gaps in knowledge about managing change or even defining a strategy that maps out where we want to be in the future. As we go through an organisation, the understanding diminishes.
When communicating change, leaders and managers tend to offer information. They clearly lay out the reasons why change needs to happen. They present the business case, showing the figures and the working behind the plan. They produce a timetable looking at the different stages and steps of the change project. They look at the projections of what this means for the company in financial and business terms.
This leaves the largest questions unanswered. Every person will be thinking ‘Why is this change happening? We discuss ‘how’ we’re going to handle change. We talk about ‘what’ is going to happen. But rarely do we effectively answer the ‘why’. Why is it necessary for the business? Why is it important for the individual?
Change can be a positive and powerful force. It is by understanding the individuals within our organisation that this power can be harnessed to create rapid and sustainable change. And the only way of effectively reaching all our individuals is to utilise our managers. They are the link between the organisation and its people. They can talk not just to groups but connect with individuals and link them to the business and the strategy. Each time we make these connections we increase the chances of change success.
So back to the ‘why’. Change is important because if we don’t proactively drive it in our business we become fragile to the circumstances around us. You only have to look at the Standard & Poor’s Index to see that the lifespan of top companies has shrunk from 61 years in 1958 to 18 years today. Faster, younger and more dynamic organisations are quickly emerging to challenge the authority of market leaders.
That’s why we need change makers in our business, often called disruptive leadership. In our People & Productivity Research conducted in partnership with Works Management, the results show that 70 per cent of business leaders feel they are well equipped to effectively manage change. That means that 30% are not well equipped. Indeed, it seems to be a case of trial and error where experience counts, as 41 per cent manage change with no formal training.
If we don’t proactively harness the power of change our organisations will become fragile. We’ve seen many organisations break in the last 20 years because they have been unable to adapt to changes in their industry environment.
Driving change through a business in a way that makes us agile, with people and the organisation willing to adapt, is the new challenge. We need to ensure that our leaders and managers are more than just well equipped to manage change. They need to pre-empt it. They need to communicate the compelling destination that will keep people focussed and balanced. They need to be change makers not managers. Only then can we harness the power of change, move and adapt fast enough to continue to secure our future.
About the author
Gary Wyles is managing director of Festo Training & Consulting