Sunday, October 20, 2013

Managing Change: Does Urgency Create Resistance?

Guiding change may be the ultimate test of a leader, since no business survives over the long term if it can’t reinvent itself. But, human nature being what it is, fundamental change is often resisted mightily by the people it most affects: those in the trenches of the business. Thus, leading change is both absolutely essential and incredibly difficult.
But one has to look at why change is resisted – and one of the key reasons is that the organisation hasn’t embraced a culture of continuous improvement, which should be a prerequisite of business thinking in today’s constantly changing business environment. 
It’s an outdated assumption that everyone in the trenches resist change – but what they do resist is change for change sake; change where they don’t understand the reason for change; and change when it is forced on them rather than an inclusive process that asks them for input and feedback to the ‘things’ that need changing.
John Kotter, wrote in a 2007 Harvard Business Review article about change management that, “the most general lesson to be learned from the more successful cases is that the change process goes through a series of phases that, in total, usually require a considerable length of time. Skipping steps creates only the illusion of speed and never produces a satisfying result. A second very general lesson is that critical mistakes in any of the phases can have a devastating impact, slowing momentum and negating hard-won gains. Perhaps because we have relatively little experience in renewing organizations, even very capable people often make at least one big error.”
And he went on to highlight eight steps to transforming an organization;
1 Establishing a sense of urgency;

2 Forming a powerful guiding coalition;

3 Creating a vision;

4 Communicating a vision;

5 Empowering others to act on the vision;

6 Planning for and creating short-term wins;

7 Consolidating improvements and producing still more change;

8 Institutionalising new approaches.

Maybe because Kotter is a former Professor from Harvard the business establishment fear to question the logic of the steps – but is change management really about ‘urgency’ in the 21st Century or is change management a natural extension of a continuous improvement culture. In fact the very word ‘urgency’ can create the perception of a need to ‘rush’, where the ramifications behind a word like urgent starts to enter the domain of reactive thinking – i.e. panic.
After the global crisis has seen organisations close or downsize; and seen employee salaries frozen while prices increase across the whole spectrum of industries regardless of size – savvy employees aren’t fearful of change, in fact they’re now more concerned if they don’t see change taking place – as most understand that there is a solid business case for constant improvement to ensure future stability in ever changing global markets.
Change is never isolated within an organisation, since functions are interdependent on one another and hence a change in one section of a business will always impact others, where the catalyst for the change can be an internal or external force – i.e. a change in strategy or a development in R&D; or the emergence of a new product or competitor.
An organisation needs those in the ‘trenches’ to be constantly feeding intel on their business environment through to the decision makers, including changes in the market and/or customer expectations and perceptions, along with any other business intel that might turn out to be an opportunity or a threat to the organisations future.
Already, by encouraging this positive business thinking and culture, organisations are not only ready and ‘geared’ for change but are actually expecting it – and hence there’s never a sense of urgency just a sense of acceptance and reality that change is a healthy sign of business development.
Creating a sense of urgency is not a prerequisite for successful change management – in fact the very process of creating that ‘sense of urgency’ can be the one factor that creates a resistance to change in the first place.
What organisations should strive for is a culture that expects and demands change and continuous improvement that aligns with a corporate vision to be ‘successful in something’ – whether it’s being the leader in the market or a strategically focused follower.  


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