Change is a constant. That apparent contradiction makes perfect sense and is the foundation for many business strategies. But if everything can change and does change on a regular basis, then how does anything get done?
Our acceptance of the need for constant change does not necessarily make us more adaptable, so much as it makes organizations more addicted to the idea that success is around the corner, all it takes is a little change. While this is true and we can easily cover over deeper issues, challenges and make ourselves feel comfortable with blankets of change.
Constant change has become a form of corporate coping mechanism because:
Change is expected. Change is the answer to issues, struggles and failures. We wait for the organization to change with the expectation that tomorrow will be somehow different than today. This creates a ‘wait and see’ or latency approach to strategy, as everyone knows something is wrong but they are waiting for someone else to fix it.
Change is hope. Change offers the promise of washing away the intractable issues, core rigidities and problems that we cannot solve right now. No problem is too big to be handled by a change program. The bigger the business issues the bigger the transformational the program. Failure to gain results is seen as a failure in change leadership more often than the pursuit of an inadequate idea or strategy. “It would have worked, but we cannot change.”
Change is opportunity. Change creates winners and losers as the status quo gives way to the future state. People embrace change to the extent that they see opportunity. What is in it for me (WIFM) is a central element of change management strategy. The idea that we will all win in change is an illusion, leading to the old adage that change punishes the innocent while rewarding the guilty.
Change is redemptive. Change creates the opportunity for past failures to be forgiven in the face of new strategies and directions. We are all ‘new’ in the new organization or following the new strategy. It is a form of corporate confession when we admit that not everything is working and we need to do things differently.
Change creates interest and attention. Change is a story, with an ‘as-is’ beginning a ‘to-be’ end and a gap closure middle. Change gives people something to talk about and focus on. It takes up cultural and cognitive space and gives it focus.
Change gives the illusion of progress. Any organization in the midst of a change program can tell you where it stands, show you the newsletter, explain what has happened and enlist your support in what will happen. In this regard change is a prime example of having a focus on activities over results. You know this whenever you ask about results and are told that they are coming in the final phase of the program.
We have a change addiction individually and organizationally. If you doubt that just look at the ‘self-help’ section in Amazon or your local bookstore if you still have one. The bias toward change supports improvement and adaptability but also it creates artificial distinctions that hurt more than they help. We can no longer assume that leadership is change and operation is management.
Success requires both and that requires recognizing when we are creating meaningful change and when we are changing because we have nothing else to do.