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Changing Times, Same way to Change

There are a thousand clichés about change and the one that sticks out is that ‘change is constant’. Director Jonathan Booth reflects on how if it ubiquitous to us all, why don’t businesses respond better to it?

Right now, politically and socially we are undergoing profound upheaval with Brexit – changes may be fast or evolve, we have no idea what lies down the road.

There can be sudden, often tragic and seismic change in our personal lives. Sometimes it is creeping and organic – like technology transforming our communications and access to information – and we accept this because we adapt to its new benefits.

It’s an ever changing time
I see, that clock upon the wall
Well it don’t bother me at all
It’s an ever changing time

Aretha Franklin

So, change is constant.  Yet, according to research, 70% of organisational change initiatives fail to achieve their original objectives, so there clearly is a need to have a rethink about how we approach it.

From my perspective, there a couple of relatively straightforward, back to basics, steps to take to get these on the right track:

  1. Be clear from the outset what change is – and what it isn’t
  2. Develop a common understanding of and commitment to why there is a need / desire to change
  3. Work out how the process is going to be initiated, managed and measured

What is change?

A dictionary says ‘to make or become different‘ and this applies well to organisational change.

Change isn’t an event or an end in itself but a process of moving from the current state to a future desired state, whether that big or small, short or long term.

Of course, there are different types of change process depending on the scale and nature of what has to be achieved.  The basic principles are always the same and are not that complicated.

I believe that a lot of managers and consultants over complicate the process of change in an act of self-justification. In the long run, this tends to create negative perceptions of change processes that are counter-productive.

I think of it as more of an art and one that, for the leaders of change, is really a state of mind.

Within many organisations there are can be a fear of change based on previous experience. Many of us are naturally resistant to it – a common and understandable human trait.

It is up to the leaders of change to be more open and transparent about it.  Take time upfront to clearly set out the ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘how’ and enable employees to address their concerns so they can positively embrace what is  planned.

Why Change?

JOURNEY4 commissioned research into organisational motivations for change as defined by senior leaders of business with a turnover of between £2m and £2bn. This research identified four distinct groups:

  1. Those who set a clear vision of the future for their organisation and mapped out how they planned to achieve their goals
  2. Those who had a sense of future ambition and direction but didn’t take the time to set out how they planned to get there
  3. Those who tended to plan change reactively in response to customer feedback, market conditions, competitor activity, etc.
  4. Those who didn’t plan change at all and ran their businesses based on what was happening at that moment in time

In broad terms, we found that leaders were equally likely to fall into one of these four categories,

Based on our experience of facilitating organisational change, the need or desire to change tends to come down to one of two different motivators:

  • The desire to move away from a situation or problem, or
  • The desire to move towards a different place or future

So you see – change really is a state of mind! The more this motivation for change is clearly communicated to and understood the more it has a chance of being supported and of succeeding.

How to Change

Whatever the scale and impact of economic or social change – global , national or local –  the ‘way to go about it successfully hasn’t changed. It’s just that the context is different:  a greater focus on improving productivity and reducing costs and growth is generally harder to achieve.

When considering “how” to change, there needs to be clear accountability and responsibility, regular progress checking and agreed measures of success. But this does not guarantee success. It just builds discipline around the process once it has been planned and launched.

And many organisations get this bit horribly wrong – remember the 70% failure rate as a guide. The cart shouldn’t come before the horse…

If you lose sight of the basics, all the programme managers and spreadsheets in the world won’t make any difference.

So yes, times are changing. They always have been, they always will be… but, for me, the key principles of managing change successfully will always remain the same!

How is your business embracing change? Are you clear on what needs to change to stay on track for growth as your market evolves?

For more information about Journey4’s experience and approach in change management and how we can help with yours, contact us on 01823 451 199 or complete an enquiry form for a confidential discussion.