Change is constant – blah, blah, blah
Why do some leaders and change practitioners think that saying, “change is constant”, or “change is the new business as usual” legitimises putting an organisation and its people through a never-ending series of large-scale, back-to-back disruptions without equipping them for this?
Ignite have looked far and wide for inspiration, including the world of elite sport, to identify how to create an environment where change is seen as positive ongoing progression.
Why was it that England’s international rugby performance fell off the end of a cliff after a highly successful, innovative and well led transformation programme culminating in them winning the world cup in 2003? Contrast that with the world of Olympics where we have seen a sustained Games on Games improvement since the dismal days of Atlanta 96.
So what was different and what can we learn? High performance organisations that have sustained success, have a higher purpose vision based around long-term impact and an evolving picture of the kind of performance that is required to win, with a shared understanding that the goalposts will move at some point. If there is a sense of permanence about the target end state (as in Rugby 2003) the drive for achieving can be lost once that goal has been reached. It creates a mentality that “we have done it” and “we are there” and the drive for doing even better and achieving can be lost. Sadly there lie the very roots of future failure.
Given the pace and scale of change organisations now face, and the way that tech and innovation regularly move the goalposts, do we need a radical rethink about the practice of change management? At Ignite we believe we do, and here are three reasons why:
1. If change is truly constant, why is that change managers are deployed in programmes rather than the organisation itself?
Does this not just reinforce the ‘stop-start’, ‘beginning-end’ nature of change that is now a thing of the past? Surely it would make more sense to embed this capability within the fabric of the organisation.
2. Olympic sport teams do not have people working on projects that are focused on ‘transformation’ or ‘change’ for the different stages of their journey
They have people who focus on an ongoing and relentless quest for performance improvement and excellence. These key people establish in athletes a hunger to be the best they possibly can be, bring to life standards of performance, and help them respond and adapt to new technologies, structures, processes and techniques so they continuously develop and grow. Surely this is what change managers should be doing with people and teams so they can reach their potential and maximise their impact on the organisation on an ongoing basis? This shifts the role of change management from behaviour, process, structural and tech change to include a focus on impact and performance.
3. The toolkit of a typical change team has not moved in the past twenty years
It is far too skewed towards bringing structure, visibility and control to the change management journey, rather than tools that build staff understanding, commitment and capability to achieve high performance through embracing change.
So, is elite sport the right place to look for inspiration?
We don’t think that they are the paragons of virtue when it comes to performance and change, or indeed that they have all of the answers. But put it this way, if we put them head to head in competition with a traditional change management team to resolve a performance challenge in a commercial organisation, we know who we’d put our money on!