Everything changes, including change.
Allow me to explain- what I mean by this is that not only are technologies and businesses changing continuously (as always) but that there has also been a paradigm shift in the way these changes are impacting businesses. This new reality calls for a different approach towards change management on the part of companies. Changes today are multifarious, never-ending and coming faster than ever.
Additionally, many companies have been trying to incorporate practices like Agile and DevOps which promote a mindset of continuous improvement. In my consulting experience, I have come across a number of cases where organizations have underestimated the commitment required to truly change. This has often resulted in organizations giving up mid-way on the change initiatives or settling for a lot less than they would have liked to achieve. For instance, one of the clients I was working for ended up with a mixture of Scrum and waterfall which resulted in even worse results than before. Their time to put things into production grew and the output was of lesser quality than they were used to.
In order to fully appreciate the extent of changes, we need to start with Kotter’s 8-step process for leading change. For long, this model has been a cornerstone of change management theory. Essentially, it lays out an 8-step process for leading organizational change efforts. These steps are:
- Create a sense of urgency
- Build a guiding coalition
- Form a strategic vision and initiatives
- Enlist a volunteer army
- Enable action by removing barriers
- Generate short-term wins
- Sustain acceleration
- Institute change
In case you are not familiar with this model, you can read up a bit here.
For over four decades this model has held pole position when it comes to the theory and practice of change management. However, significant changes have been made to this model in response to advancements over the years in methodologies as well as technology. As recently as 2014, the model was revamped to take these developments into account. This reflects the new reality when it comes to changes today.
There could be any number of reasons why the process of change is much more complicated today. As I have already stated, the speed of changes is much faster and change itself is occurring along many different angles at the same time. In my experience, the following are the most important factors that have led to this:
a) Changes have become smaller: Today, due to the influence of Agile, Lean and DevOps, organizations are much more focused on continuous improvement at all levels. This means that instead of dealing with big organizational changes from a top-down perspective, companies today are dealing with a much larger number of smaller changes. The basic idea behind this is that all these small, incremental changes often add up to take the company down a path of continual improvement. In practice, this complicates things as even the tiniest change can set off a new chain of unforeseen changes. Dealing with so much change can often lead to companies losing focus of their larger goals (the dot on the horizon).
b) The pace of change has increased: Related to the 1st point, is the fact that these changes are coming faster than ever before. One part of this is simply that changes have become smaller and more numerous as compared to earlier and thus, something or other is always changing. This, along with its corresponding impact on other elements of the workflow or value chain creates a business environment that is more turbulent than ever before. Without a proper sense of what teams or management are working towards, this can often lead to chaos.
c) Technology itself has changed: Today, not just technology itself but the way we handle technology, the way we handle applications and the way customer value is delivered have changed drastically. This has a number of different implications. For instance take a look at the insane number of tools out there to automate continuous delivery pipelines.
d) The competition has changed: Businesses worldwide have been grappling with a constantly changing environment, tougher regulatory requirements and the relentless pace of technological change. At the same time new social, local and mobile solutions are getting consumers used to higher and higher standards of innovation, service and convenience, which they now demand in every aspect of their lives. Startups have been mushrooming and can deliver faster, meaning large companies need a faster pace of change in order to compete. Given this level of competition, the costs of not evolving are immense.
Taking all of this into account, companies need to evolve in terms of how they deal with change. Some of the essential changes I would advise them to make are:
- A change in mindset: Organizations today are seeing a larger number of smaller changes. Change is not about stand-alone change initiatives anymore and companies can no longer run a few large scale initiatives and say that they have achieved change. Today organizations face an endless stream of small changes resulting in a continuous improvement process and that is the key to success. They also need to maintain a strict focus on keeping these changes aligned with the organization’s vision. The best way to do this is to clearly define and communicate the organizational goals while also allowing employees and teams the freedom to choose the best way to achieve those goals. All in all, this means a basic change in mindset towards continuous improvement and a constant focus on change.
- A change in culture: Imperatives such as faster time-to-market as well as the influence of methodologies such as Agile, Lean and DevOps are bringing about many changes in the workplace. All these changes are driven by the desire to be more agile and responsive. Thus, today we see much closer collaboration between different teams, departments and also within the same team between managers and their team members. Today, people on the operational level have a lot more influence than before.For instance, one of my biggest clients has started showing a flipped triangle to depict their organizational structure. This is the exact opposite of how the traditional hierarchical organizational structure used to be shown and basically signifies the fact that now managers are seen more as facilitators rather than managers. However, in order for such initiatives to succeed, both employees, as well as managers, will need to buy into this ‘culture of collaboration’
- .A change in strategy: One of my favorite quotes from Sun Tzu’s ‘The art of war’ is- ‘strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory while tactics without strategy are the noise before defeat’. In other words, no matter how good your tacticsor implementations are, without a good strategy or plan all your change management efforts will lead to a dead-end. Thus, one of the first steps in dealing with changes today is to put together a good plan outlining your change management efforts.
- A change in technology: Putting the right technology in place is imperative if you are to succeed in your change management plans. With the new ways of working, you need to invest in the technological infrastructure which will support your change initiatives. This could vary from investing in the right communication platforms to incorporating technology that helps you measure your outcomes better. And that brings me to the final change.
- A change in measurements: Organizations need to know where they are at, where they are going and what it takes to get to that dot on the horizon. To achieve this, it is crucial to keep a close watch on proper measurements and tracking.Given the volume of changes taking place, organizations need to take another look at their metrics and measurement programs to see if they are truly capturing the information they want. In my experience, many companies struggle with reports which no one actually reads but which take up a lot of time and effort to create. In a world where change accelerates at a staggering pace, this is a level of wastefulness organizations cannot afford. This is why I would advise every organization to go in for a re-haul of their measurements and reports, with the main focus on their goals and the questions they want to be answered.
In conclusion, I think it is quite obvious that we are living in a complex time when it comes to change. One can almost say a chaotic one! Organizations need to change if they are to survive and thrive in such an environment. The important thing to recognize here is that change is not only here to stay but is also likely to get much more complicated in the future. For companies the message is clear- adapt or perish.