Stop changing!

At Involve we are in business mostly because organisations are always changing. Change, I hear, is the only constant. That’s absolutely true, but does that also make it necessary and unavoidable?

A thought experiment for those in charge of a large organisation. What percentage of your management capacity (combining all the time and energy of all your managers) is spent annually on initiating, planning, organizing, implementing and communicating changes? Be honest now! Where I visit, that’s at least 20 to 30 percent. How much does that impact on the various support departments? And what percentage of your employees’ time is spent each year on understanding, processing and learning changes? All in all, the price you pay for change is very high. Suppose you were to put all that capacity and energy of all those people simply in performing for your customers. And suppose you were to persist year upon year, always devoting your full attention to your customers and how you perform and nothing else. Where would this leave your company after, say, 10 years?

Minding the shop

Of course, this is just a thought experiment. It has little to do with reality. But the thought struck me when, having worked as a consultant for a long time, I was hired by a large organisation for a few years. I noticed that the majority of senior management were people who described themselves as ‘not the type to mind the shop’. They wanted to build, innovate and get on with it. And I admit, for communication and change professionals like myself, this is great news. But then I saw a pattern. Every major change was zealously set in motion by these top managers. But after a while their role as initiator more or less finished and while nothing concrete had changed, they started to get bored. Which is not surprising if change makes up such a large part of your everyday work. So what to do in that case? Exactly – you come up with the next change. They did wonder however, why their employees had become so cynical about their great plans.

Boring

In his book From good to great Jim Collins describes how some companies are successful by sublimely minding the shop. Businesses that understand what they excel at, what their passion is and how to make it all work, simply need to crank up the flywheel of their business year upon year to achieve ever greater speeds. No change in course, no major reorganisations, no radical change programmes as this would mean restarting the flywheel. No, just hard graft and discipline. In Collins’ MIT study this appears to be the secret behind companies that perform consistently better than their competitors and that beat the market year upon year.

But that’s a little boring, isn’t it?