Thursday, March 26, 2009

Ready For a Change?

As we've witnessed recently in Washington, change is a popular aspiration but an elusive reality. I know this all too well. As a consultant, I'm typically hired to help a firm improve some aspect of their business. Of course, improvement requires change. I find my clients are often unprepared to tackle the imposing challenge of getting to meaningful change.

But sometimes change is imposed upon us, and we're forced to respond in ways we were unable or unwilling to do previously on our own unprompted initiative. Economic downturns can do that. Hard times can be just the catalyst we need for needed change. Rahm Emanuel's comment "never waste a crisis" was politically motivated, but that's not bad business advice.

One of the most important truths of organizational change is the following: "If the pain of change is greater than the pain of staying the same, change will not occur." There are many reasons change initiatives fail, but this is the most common. There is too much discomfort in changing, not enough in staying the course. So the status quo prevails, often despite elaborate plans and valiant improvement efforts.

The starting point for most successful change initiatives is what some call "the burning platform." In other words, we better jump (into change) or we'll probably get burned. Or maybe we're already getting burned. That's where many companies are today. They're in emergency response mode. Others see the flames advancing and realize it's time to take evasive action. The pain of staying put suddenly makes them more receptive to the difficult changes they only talked about before.

So don't waste the crisis (or the impending one). I wrote earlier on recession cost-cutting strategies and one of the takeaway points I made is to think long-term. Avoid the bunker mentality, hunkering down hoping to minimize the damage, and cutting staff and other costs in reactive fashion. The current difficulties create the compelling case for change, change that may not yield immediate results but will position your firm for long-term success once the economy recovers.

Because the time is ripe for strategic transformations, I'd like to devote the next few posts to how to effectively lead organizational change. Your firm's specific initiatives may relate to anything from business development to project delivery to reorganization to leadership development. Or whatever. The basics of leading change are the same in any case. If you'd like to ask for particular advice for your firm's change efforts, please don't hesitate to do so.

1 comment:

John Poole said...

In the world of construction and engineering change is like the black hole of death in the minds of business owners. It literally has to be a burning plank for them to make a change. Unfortunately, employees are powerless. It's tough.