During the reunion of the executive education alumni of the London Business School I had the pleasure to co-moderate one of the workshops. The topic was how to navigate continuous change. About 20 international executives exchanged their experiences. Here are the key learnings.
It’s about People
All executives confirmed their organizations are going through massive changes and that change is abundant. Not everyone has the same calibration of the intensity of the change. For some change is very intense, whilst others seem to have a different pace as in some industries the change cycles are longer due to regulations and high capital requirements.
All of these executives have a positive attitude towards change. They see it as an opportunity and not so much a threat. And they seem to be used to living from change to change. But they are aware that most people prefer stability. So they need to remain empathetic when people do not go along in change.
Apparently executives have no trouble in dealing with change. They don’t see it as a burden and think it’s rather easy.
But when asked if their organizations can handle the change well, they are far less positive. They are rather critical about the change ability of their companies. For them the execution of change is difficult because of the people aspect. And this is remarkable as people seem to be both the main factor of success and also of failure of change.
We discussed change and strategic choices together, as if they were interchangeable concepts. Every strategic effort requires change and strategy is also an answer to change. However as one of the participants pointed out, you need to change with a vision for the longer term. If you were to change your vision too often, you become steerless.
If we know that strategy is about change, we can see every strategy execution as a change process. I believe it would help us tremendously if we go away from the more financial and operational view on strategy into a more change or transformational approach. Change is not a part of strategy. Strategy is change.
How to Deal with Change?
So when we went into the debate on how to deal with change, there were 5 pieces of advice.
- Capture the hearts and minds of people
You do this by making sure the change is meaningful. You can use numbers to show why the change is needed, but they do not stick. Wrap the numbers around a meaningful story and people will remember it longer. And you will find the change more meaningful.
- Chunk up the change in smaller bits
By doing that you make sure that people understand the change they are in. And they can have an impact. Big Bangs are difficult to understand and are threatening. The idea of agile strategy is also more consistent with the disruptions that we are facing. By chunking the change you can involve people faster and you can adapt your strategy as you go.
- Make change consistent
When leading change, we need to look at behavior (competencies, attitudes, productivity), contextual elements (like organization, technology, structure and culture), leadership (vision and style). The change of these elements must be synchronized. There’s no point in wanting to change the behavior of people without creating a context that helps them. If you implement change without adapting the enabling or inhibiting factors, you will fail.
- Beware of the cultural aspect of change.
Sometimes it’s easier to adapt a strategy to a culture. Too often strategies underestimate the power of culture and assume people and culture will follow.
- Change must be continuous
Should we wait until we have to change or to change before we have to? By adopting a continuous change approach organizations can explore and exploit more opportunities and they can stay ahead. Reactive change management can seem efficient but it is more disruptive for the people. It is clear that organizations cannot change everything all the time. A good balance between stability and exploitation and agility and exploration needs to be found. Your employees will be grateful for it.
Thanks to all the participants of this workshop and thanks to Leonardo Moreno for co-moderating this workshop. I wish we had more time.
Change is omnipresent. Many change initiatives fail because we underestimate the human factor. This was confirmed in this London Business School Workshop.
If you need support on how to shape change, get in touch.