Are you finding change more difficult than it has been in the past? A recent study provides some clues as to why…

A couple of months ago Executives Online produced their latest UK study of “The Challenge of Change” based on the responses of 1250 executives.

Here’s a selection of the findings I found interesting and some thoughts on how this state of affairs impacts on delivery of change programs.

Only 16% felt that when somebody uses the term change management it would be clear to others precisely what is meant.

However, within the respondents,

90% agreed with a possible definition of “Change management is a structured approach to transitioning individuals, teams, and organisation from a current state to a desired future state”.

I’ve been wondering for a while whether we are just getting a little too caught up in a quest, to rename, rebrand, redefine change management. And on reading the first finding I think I had a bit of an ‘aha moment’. Why are we worrying about precision? Isn’t tolerance of ambiguity one of the critical attributes of a good change manager, and then by extension an organisation that manages change well?  And that’s why the respondents were comfortable with the second question – it is a ‘yes, that’ll do’ response.

As a profession, are we trying to box up stuff that is better left out and messing up the organisational arena?

If we are to build change capability in organisations so that they are better positioned to be flexible, and manage the demands of constant change, do we do our clients and employers any favours by seeking to define what change management is? Or is part of that crucial capability being flexible in mindset? Open to multiple definitions and perspective of what change is.

From year to year, little has changed in the ” Top four drivers of change”

  1. increasing efficiency
  2. cost reduction
  3. corporate restructures
  4. look for competitive advantage

It does appear though that the drive to improve quality and be more innovative are also significant considerations in the change agenda.

Is it any wonder we are in a pickle? The great promise of innovative cultures is the delivery of greater quality and lower cost. However, this is rarely recognised, hence the value in innovative cultures in creating competitive advantage. If you do have one, think Zappos, or Google, you do have an advantage over your competitors.

But generally we see an efficiency, cost, and quality trade off. If you want quality and efficiency it will come at a greater cost. Lower costs and greater efficiency means lower quality. You get the drift. The results reported suggested that there are multiple drivers occurring within the organisations. Is it time for change leaders to draw a line in the sand, and commit to a single focus?

A whopping great 59% believed that most business change is driven by fear or defensive reasons, as opposed to 21% last year.

Hello GFC. We know from basic physiology that we respond in three ways to excess fear – fight, flight or paralysis. So, yes some business have closed shop (flight), and others have chosen to fight back with change programs. But if you are thinking that your change program is spinning its wheels a little too long, maybe fear isn’t the greatest of motivators? Do we need a bit of executive counselling? Fight the fear and do it anyway?

So not surprisingly, 58% of the respondents felt that their organisations managed change poorly/fairly poorly. The same categories were 39% last year.

The top 4 causes for when change goes wrong were:

  1. Failure to empower staff so they can deliver
  2. Expecting employees to do day jobs and also change roles
  3. Failure to appoint a committed change sponsor/champion
  4. Failure to identify the right changes to employ

I wouldn’t disagree with this list, I would rate the second point (expecting employees to do day jobs and also change roles as number one though). The first three speak to the issue of ownership, and I guess this creates a circular reference back to the issue of definition, and importance of creating innovative cultures. If you can’t define it, you don’t know who owns it. Unless you are within an innovative culture and you all own change.

Finally, it was interesting to see that the both client and candidates rank the same top four skills in terms of importance to a person responsible for delivering change

  1. successful leadership skills
  2. successful track record in similar change management programsm
  3. excellent communication skills
  4. personal charisma and persuasiveness.

It was also interesting to see that both clients and candidates agreed on the bottom two attributes (marketing and sales attributes, and technical acumen). I’ve written earlier on the link between marketing and change, but perhaps a few recruiters need to think their ‘must have’ experience in SAP/PeopleSoft/System of choice criteria? If you are hiring on the least valued attribute, change may very well be being mismanaged.

Anyway, head over to the full report, it’s worth the read.

I’m heading off to the IABC Global Conference in Toronto where I am speaking at the “Unconference” on organisational readiness for web2.0 and facilitating an “Ideas Jam” on Managing Change in the main Conference. Hopefully, my next post will be choc full of ideas, thoughts and trends…


* Murphy’s Law – have just been sent the link to the Australian version minutes after posting, I won’t have time to analyse and post comparisons before the conference – save it for later on….or you can do the work for me ; – )

Australian Challenge of Change

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