Change is an integral part of life. So much so that we are often completely unaware of it. We simply wake up one day to the realization that something familiar isn’t quite the same as we thought it was.
We experienced a good example of this over the Christmas holidays, visiting our young grandchildren for almost a month. As you would expect, the children we met on the first day were very different from the young children we had last seen. More surprising, however, was how much they changed during our time with them. It wasn’t only that, even after a couple of weeks, they were so proficient at things they couldn’t do when we arrived. Nor was it just the delicious festive food that made them feel heavier. We were sure that they also grew physically!
The fact is change is continuous. In the 21st Century, however, we are perhaps more aware of it than ever, and the fact that – due to the massive technological advances – the pace seems to be faster and the demands on us more urgent. So much so, that ‘change management’ has not only become part of the lexicon, but a recognized skill and much sought after competency. But are we being misguided?
The term ‘change management’ suggests that change is specific and implies that it happens at a specific point in time and can therefore be manipulated. This doesn’t jell with the concept of change being ongoing. The ongoing nature of change makes it more evolutionary, and thus far more difficult to manage. It also reinforces the need to make your organisation more organic – as I described last week.
In his book Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari writes, “Every point in history is a crossroad. A single travelled road leads from the past to the present, but myriad paths fork off into the future.” In other words, history is actually the outcome of decisions made in the continuum that is time. This makes it less deterministic and more haphazard than you might think. After all, no one can control events for every moment of the day. And the same is true in business.
Substitute the word ‘business’ for ‘history’ and you can just as easily say “Every point in business is a crossroad.” This emphasises the point. Like history, business performance is an outcome. But it is the outcome of a myriad of possibilities. To be successful you need to be able to respond to any one of those. And managing change is more often than not a case of focussing on one in particular.
All too often, things only work until they don’t. By the time you realise that they are no longer working it is too late. You end up scrambling to identify a new solution and stuck on the change management treadmill trying to introduce it. Trying to manage change is a mug’s game, and success will always be less than you intended. You will do far better to create an organic culture that responds to change as it happens. You will be less likely to find yourself scrambling for a solution and trying to create and direct a change because it might have already evolved.
Recently popular management blogger Seth Godin wrote, “Intentional action is the hallmark of a professional.” The context of this statement is the need to replace conventional systems that he implies are already obsolete, but which still prevail. As such it may seem like another call for more effective change management. Hopefully, you won’t fall into that trap.
Of course it goes without saying that you need to think before you act. But your business depends on the way your people act. Your people are the ones who create that myriad of possibilities. Therefore every individual matters and your intention needs to be on creating an organic environment and a culture where actions are shaped by a common purpose that makes people more adaptable and responsive to change. That is how you ensure that change evolves naturally rather than as a top down – and often too late – requirement.