Friday, October 22, 2010

Winning During the Slog - Part 2: Companies Don’t Need to Change. They Need to Adapt

(From Issues for Growth Vol.19, No.14)

This is the second of a series of articles about how companies and individuals are winning during the “The Long, Slow, Hard Economic Slog” that we are in (Issues for Growth Vol. 19, No.13). This article is written by Chris Carosella who works with The Mead Consulting Group. -DPM

He remembered the last time. It was painful. People were hurt. Money was lost. Clients left. Chaos was everywhere. And it took so much time. But he knew he had to do it again even though he dreaded it. He actually felt sick at the thought of it. The CEO picked up the phone and called his most trusted direct report and said, “Let’s do it. We know we can’t wait any longer. It’s time for another change initiative in this company. Just make sure it works this time!”

He braced himself for employees’ reactions…
“Not again.”
“It takes us away from our jobs.”
“It doesn’t work.”
“It’s the program du jour.”

His company has gone through some challenging growth over the past few years yet he knows they’re now at a critical point. They’ve made mistakes; they didn’t learn from them. They had plans; they kept them at the management level. He wants sustainable, profitable growth, along with providing his clients and employees what they need to thrive. Yet he loses sleep over how to do it. All he can think of at 2 a.m. is the definition of insanity –doing the same thing yet expecting different results.

What most CEOs aren’t aware of, according to recent Blanchard research, is that up to 70% of change efforts fail, a shocking figure in good times, let alone in the current economic climate. The main reason for that failure rate is not considering the impact of change on those people who are most impacted by it – the employees. Executives see change as a way to strengthen the business. Employees don’t. They see change as unwelcome, disruptive, and intrusive.

Employees focus too much on what they think they will lose from change rather than what they will gain in the end. A profound impact on change efforts is the emotional and psychological adjustments that people go through as they adjust to something new. It is this emotional impact that is usually neglected by leaders because it’s considered a “soft” issue. Given that people are attached to how things are, there is a sense of loss and emotional upheaval if that certainty, and the security it provides, is threatened. This is important, because people cannot work effectively if they are experiencing emotional turbulence.

A business change leader from GE identified why change efforts failed in a variety of businesses:

· Mistaken belief that announcing a change effort is the same as implementing it.

· Colleagues (managers and employees) are not convinced of the need for change.

· Leaders fail to understand employees’ reactions to change.

· Leaders provide too little information about the reason or purpose of the change to employees.

· The practical aspects of making change happen are misunderstood or ignored.

· The actual impact of change is not measured or benchmarked.

· Change is seen as a 'one-off' rather than an ongoing process.

Forget about it. Our challenge to you is to forget change. Yes – forget change. It’s seldom done well, it’s not enjoyable and employees don’t believe you believe in it. So don’t talk about change. For most people change means being afraid of the unknown, which can be overwhelming. That means if you’re managing change you’re also managing the fears of others, which is impossible. Gary Hamel, ranked by the Wall Street Journal as the world’s most influential business thinker, has said, “Today, the overriding problem for every organization is how to change, deeply and continually, and at an accelerating pace.” Hamel’s right – with one suggested edit: Use the word “adapt” instead of “change.”

Begin by considering what it means to adapt versus what it means to change. Change implies a beginning point (how things are now) with the intent to reach a desired end point (how things will be). Adapting is the ability to adjust to a variety of situations as needed. There’s no beginning and end. It’s a constant process that can move in any direction as desired. It includes everyone, not just change leaders. Everyone becomes responsible for results. “Change” and “adapt” are similar to many people. That’s OK. We don’t want to end up in a war of definitions. We do, however, want to alter how you think about and what you do about growing your company or organization into the best it can be.

When the game gets tough, the tough change the game. Companies are recognizing that, in order to succeed during “the slog,” the current and future economic environment calls for dramatic change. RapidAdaptÔ is the recommendation for your sanity. Adapt means to Accelerate Decisions Attitudes and Processes in Time so that you can stay ahead of competitive, client, and company challenges. The purpose of RapidAdaptÔ is to help you develop the ability to constantly adapt strategies and tactics in order to create a sustainable company. It’s not just a strategy process because it teaches employees how to create an adapting culture with a sense of urgency instead of complacency. That, in turn, creates a continuous learning culture with accountability at all levels of the company. A division president of an international bank said it best, “Employees want to take action and create an atmosphere of achievement and continuous improvement. They don’t want to be led through workshops on how to change.”

Some companies are experiencing significant “game-changing” results. What are you doing to “change the game” and create a culture of adaptability?

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