Change: A Necessary Evil, a Desired Gift or a Fundamental Need?

February 26, 2019 by David Sturm

People and organizations have different triggers for change. Mine was a two-and-a-half day personal retreat that I called “What is my WHY”. The self-moderated process culminated in the need to live a fuller life and do meaningful work in a healthy environment. I encourage all individuals and organizations to take some time to think of their needs and the necessary changes that are, in my opinion, inevitable.

START WITH QUESTIONS

I started thinking intensely about change a few years ago. There were different things that drove my thoughts. These things, I believe, will be best represented by questions, such as:

  • What can/must/should I change to improve my life? (These are three different questions, right?)
  • What can we do in the organization to improve our lives / way of work / relations / processes? (One of the areas of change that persisted in my mind was a change within our company, which was very important for many people.)
  • How can we do it? What are the challenges?
  • Where/how do we start?
  • Why do I/we need a change? Is it necessary?
  • What will be the outcome? Is it worth the effort and the risk?

 

So many questions! And so many different paths. After experiencing and reading about successful and unsuccessful personal and organizational changes, there was a bit more clarity. However, new knowledge brought new questions.

TWO THRUTHS OR ASSUMPTIONS

I have found that the topic of change management is both complex and quite simple. The simple part is that change seems to be an overarching and constant aspect of our personal and professional lives. So, change is here to stay, and we should learn to manage it.

Pretty easy to understand, right? We live in an ever-changing world that drives the need to adjust, advance, innovate, transform or, in one word, change. Even if the ultimate aim is stability, there are often change-related goals: to reduce variability or the time required for operations; to improve understanding of coworkers and clients, or to cut cost.

Assumption No. 1: Change is the only constant.

The complexity comes in when we start thinking of the ways to go about it. And here we come to the questions. It is a good place to start because, as it turns out, one out of three change projects in organizations fail. The reasons are diverse, ranging from pursuing the wrong change and choosing the wrong approach to not developing people’s capabilities.

Organizations that do not succeed in implementing change:

  • Fail to think the change through (ask questions, listen).
  • Do not choose the direction of action carefully and do not think of the long-term effect of change.
  • Do not develop the capabilities of people, especially managers, and forget to think of the resources needed.

 

Apparently, change management is quite complex. It is connected to goal-setting, internal and external communication, motivation, and organizational culture and processes.

Assumption No. 2: All management is change management.

NOW WHAT?

Of course, there are very successful cases of organizational change. Organizations manage to change and grow by doing the right change at the right time, in the right timeframe, with the right people. A search on Amazon.com gives us a huge number of different titles of books about change management, each with a slightly different take on the topic. There is a lot of knowledge and guidance. But how to choose the right approach? Below there are links to a few great articles on change management. Parts of this blog are based on them and I encourage you to read them. But my goal, when starting to write this blog post, was to try and simplify and condense all my thoughts about change management.

THREE (and many more) QUESTIONS

So many questions and even more solutions! I needed something simpler and easier to comprehend. That got me thinking about one of the simplest concepts in the new managerial concepts: The Golden Circle developed by Simon Sinek, the author of “Start With Why”. Here is a quick overview.

To put it shortly, an organization should always start with Why we do it, instead of How to do it and eventually Do what they do. I think that this concept translates very nicely to change management. It serves as a simple and clear strategic guideline to keep organizations on the path of successful change projects. Here we go with the questions again.

1. Why do we want to change? Why should we change? Why is the change necessary?

The most important thing is to make it clear why a certain change is necessary. Every change project should have a clear story that is easily communicated to the colleagues and the public.

It is extremely important to choose the right change, because the cost of setting off on the wrong path can be very high.

Once you know why and have chosen the right change, make sure that the management (the leaders) are fully onboard.

This is all nicely summarized in a quote by Mahatma Gandhi:

Be the change that you wish to see in the world.

2. How (in what way) should we change? How do we need to change? How will this change affect our organization and the people? How do we prepare people for the change?

In the second step we should make clear how the change would look like. Think of the effects it will have on the organization during and after the finished change process. Make a communication and training plan to ensure that your people understand and are able to accept and implement the change.

This Einstein’s thought adds valuable insight:

The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking.
It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.

3. What are the actions that we need to take? What are the indicators of a successful change project? What factors will most influence the change process? What capacities do we need to develop to implement the change? What is the timeframe?

Now it is time to put the thoughts and plans into action. One of the main factors of success is to choose and develop the right managers to take responsibility and be the catalyst of the change. Plan your resources and actions so that they will have the most effect and make sure that everyone involved has the understanding, the opportunities and the skills needed.

As Mother Theresa has said,

I alone cannot change the world,
but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.

CONCLUDE WITH AN ANSWER

So many questions and even more solutions! For the conclusion let me try to answer the question in the title. Is change a necessary evil, a desired gift or a fundamental need? It can be all three. But in my view, it should be a positive experience (hence not evil), it should not be accidental (so not just a gift) and we should internalize that it is needed (both for the success of the organization and its people).