Wednesday, 19 February 2014

What Prevents Change?

I saw a great question recently: “If the good practices of successful organisations are obvious… how come other organisations don’t emulate?”

We read about any number of businesses that have achieved this or that transformation either through a visionary leader (or leaders), through transformational technology or any number of causes.  These are the success stories, but as the question above suggests, there are clearly times when things don’t work out.

From what I’ve seen, there are usually 8 reasons that change delivery doesn’t work.  They could all be summed up as circumstances.

This is “the way things are done” in an organisation.  In some cases the “not invented here” mentality prevails.  This is where someone proposes a good idea from “outside”, but it’s rejected because it didn’t come from the Board (or Senior Management Committee, etc).  The culture may also be one of “we don’t do things that way” or “it didn’t come up through the proper channels”.  

“Just another fad”, “Let the middle managers handle it”, “We can’t afford it”, “Finance will never approve it” are some of the catchphrases that you hear when commitment is clearly lacking.  Commitment to change starts at the top, not in the middle.

Some businesses simply don’t have the “can do” mentality that drives success.  They may be risk-averse, or have experienced previous cases where well-intentioned change projects foundered on the rocks of apathy, commitment or culture.  “The customers won’t like it” or “The staff will never agree” are typical excuses.  Workers may be scared that the change will make their skills redundant, or that they will need re-training and may not be able to absorb it.

… that it’s worth it.  Related to Commitment, this again has to come from the top.  If people see that senior management aren’t committed and convinced, they’ll take their cue from them.  I saw a restructuring project in one of the UK’s largest clearing banks fail because of the perceived lack of senior management commitment.

If people don’t understand why the change is necessary and what’s in in for them, expect resistance, lack of focus, incomplete execution of projects and lower morale.  

Some might call this “Control”.  What I mean by this is making sure that the changes introduced remain in place.  There’s a tendency for people to revert the “bad old ways” (they’re used to them after all, and they worked…).  If things aren’t working, find out what and change the process.

This means failing to reward those who make things happen.  People tend to forget that there’s usually a team who make things happen.  You can’t expect people to change or to lead change if their efforts aren’t recognised.  

This ranges from “We can’t afford it” to not making sufficient budget available to support the continuing change.  This may not just be cash, but other resources (office space, people, equipment).  This is closely related again to commitment and conviction.

Not making sure that the foregoing are all aligned means that any change project is doomed to failure from the start.  

I have spent more than half my life delivering change in different world markets from the most developed to “emerging” economies. With more than 20 years in the world financial services industry running different service, operations and lending businesses, I started my own Performance Management Consultancy to offer solutions for improving performance, productivity and risk management.  I work with individuals, small businesses, charities, quoted companies and academic institutions across the world. An international speaker, trainer, author and fund-raiser, I can be contacted by email . My website provides a full picture of my portfolio of services.  For strategic questions that you should be asking yourself, follow me at @wkm610.

Labels: , , ,