Urgency v Complacency: a Change Management Conundrum

Urgency v Complacency: a Change Management Conundrum

It was John Kotter who highlighted the need for urgency when making organisational change. Without a sense of need fuelled by a desire to meet objectives, it is likely that change objectives will be missed and, in the worst case scenario, the company will fail. It is when complacency takes hold – usually by way of an inherited corporate culture – that an organisation is at most danger. However, Kotter also recognised that urgency must be ‘real’. Defining this reality requires examination of the differences between complacency and true and false urgency.

The DNA of complacency

Often complacency has its roots in success. Take Kodak as an example. Despite its innovative nature, the company’s management failed to take the lead in the digital photographic revolution. Its people had even developed the world’s first digital camera, but its executives failed as soon as they took the decision to work to the ‘status quo’: it was convinced that competition would never steal away its market dominance. Kodak displayed all the signs of complacency:

  • It didn’t see the dangers to its existence
  • It relied on past success to drive its future
  • It relied on facts and data that supported its point of view, rather than allow its point of view to be shaped by facts
  • It had a strategy with no real purpose
  • It failed to lead

When Kodak was desperate for a change management strategy, it was blinded by a culture of complacency.

False urgency in focus

Given that complacency is a root cause of change management failure, it is clear that organisational change must be led by instilling a sense of urgency across all divisions and employees. However, almost as bad as inherent complacency is a false sense of urgency.

Such a situation is characterised by a lack of purpose in change management activities. There appears to be a lot going on, but nothing is really achieved:

  • There is fear of the future
  • Meetings lead to more meetings
  • Reports are written and rewritten
  • Mini projects are started on a daily basis
  • People expend plenty of energy with frenzied activity

Most interestingly, perhaps, is that this false sense of urgency shares its lack of purpose and use of selective data as common clauses with complacency.

Real urgency in the change management process

Real urgency exists when activities are managed to address important issues. This urgency exists as a constant factor, driving follow through. Processes and procedures are iterated, reviewed, and revised. It is this true sense of urgency that replaces complacency and drive meaningful organisational change. You’ll know that your organisation’s complacent culture has been replaced with future-changing urgency if you observe a new culture that includes:

  • A focus on success
  • Awareness of opportunity
  • Awareness of dangers to the business, caused by competition or the economy
  • Leadership drives progress to opportunities and with vision
  • All activities are conducted with purpose

The classic change management mistake

Many companies mistake a false urgency with real urgency. There is a lot of activity going on, but underneath the surface there is not a lot happening. People are rushing around, meeting at every opportunity, and may believe that what they are doing is working toward the new future. However, such activity serves no real purpose other than to make people too busy to affect real change. Avoiding this classic change management mistake will make your organisational change more focussed and increase its chances of success immeasurably. Understanding the difference between the two types of urgency and complacency is the first step in the creation of an urgent culture. In my next article I’ll look at four effective strategies to create real urgency in every employee.

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Change management, innovation, leadership

As you can imagine, I spend a fair amount of time keeping up with changes and challenges faced by industry and business in the fields of change management and innovation. So I’m constantly on the lookout for information and news that may impact behaviour and best practice across organisations.

Here’s a pick of what I’ve been attracted to this week:

Change Management

In its annual ‘Perspectives on HR’ report, the institute urges the function to think about replacing more established ways of managing change with “evolving fluid approaches”. In the collection of eight research articles, experts …

Many scope management processes work well at the project manager level, but get compromised by team members. If the project manager is diligent in enforcing the scope change rules, your customer may try to go directly to …

With changes in legislation, pressure from the commercial sector and expanding demands from the community sector, Not for Profits are coming under intense pressure to review and transform their organisational processes …

Climate Change Minister Ian Hunter said the project would add to South Australia’s credentials as a national leader in renewable energy. Hunter noted that South Australia has 41 per cent of the nation’s operating wind farm …

Innovation News

The $10 billion project requires mine, rail, and port infrastructure, with such a ramp up that construction already sits at 60 per cent , as it seeks to hit its massive 55 million tonnes per annum production rate. …. Australian Mining on Twitter … always wanted a better work/life balance? Then make a change in 2015 and take control of your career and future. Take Control of Your Career in 2015 – Work from Home. Profession: Mining, Oil & Gas. Role: Project Management.

“Despite the clear potential for wetlands to mitigate climate change, to our knowledge, this is the first study to quantify sequestration in temperate freshwater Australian wetlands, and one of few worldwide.” … Dr Lester, who has worked on major projects in the Coorong and Murray-Darling Basin in Australia and the Colorado River in the USA , specialises in ecological response modelling, particularly in relation to the impact of human use on aquatic ecosystems.

Comment on stories, receive email newsletters & alerts. Username. @. This is your permanent identity for Gizmodo, Kotaku, Lifehacker and Business Insider Australia … (Reuters) – Apple Inc’s deal to buy nearly $US1 billion of power from a massive First Solar Inc plant could be the first of a stampede of contracts driven by the looming change in a solar tax incentive that makes such projects particularly attractive. Together with a sharp drop in the cost of solar power and …

The changing role of managers: It is essential that middle managers are actively encouraged to participate and support both OI and innovation-focused networks. Connecting the dots: Innovation leaders are often seeking to …

Where My Words Have Travelled

publish around the place from time to time. Here’s the latest:

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are the subject of a lot debate in the blogosphere. Will they be a disruptive technology for universities? Will they take over the trainer’s job in corporate organizations?

From a higher education perspective, it’s easy to see the selling point for students

In 1987 Paul O’Neill became the CEO of Alcoa. Taking over the helm of a company usually means making grand statements about finances, about cutting costs, and change the investment priorities. But what O’Neill did at his first investor press conference was a little different.

To improve productivity in organizations you need only get leaders out in the field

The controversial Koch brothers wrote a book called the Science of Success (2007). I don’t recommend you read it as it’s one of those books that successful people write where they think they were successful because of these management techniques, whereas it’s more likely that because they were successful they could try out these management techniques (fads of the day?).

According to the ASTD’s 2013 State of the Industry Report, U.S. organizations spent $164.2 billion on employee learning and development in 2012. The report does a good job of categorizing and classifying expenditure. But what about ROI? How can managers structure training to ensure a positive ROI?

How often have you rolled out a new IT project that failed to deliver the desired benefits? Most projects fail to deliver benefits because of poor change management. Little to no attention is paid to the people side.

From the Vault

As enticing as innovation and nurturing the creative mind is, there are some common traps to look out for and some interesting approaches that big companies like Google have taken to surmount them. In some ways, it almost seems as if innovation is an unnatural part of some corporations, in that it does not respond well to management, bureaucracy, and at times, efficiency.

Many companies get so bogged down that in order to execute innovation and good decision making takes weeks and months. The organisational structures set up to can often have the opposite effect to that intended. Organisation structures are a reflection of the beliefs and attitudes held by company leaders. If they value doing things right, that’s exactly what they’ll get, but at a significant opportunity cost.

Five Ways to Adapt to the Ambiguous Nature of Change Leadership

Five Ways to Adapt to the Ambiguous Nature of Change Leadership

As I discussed in my last article, change management is the process by which change is organised and structured, whereas change leadership is the fuel that inspires the culture of change. Change, of course, is a constant in business and even more so in today’s rapidly-changing economic environment. Organisational transformation and change leadership go hand-in-hand, yet change, by its very nature, is bound by more shades of grey than a blockbuster movie. Here I look at five ways in which a change manager can adapt skill sets to become a great change leader.

The ambiguity of organisational change

When any change project is initiated, despite the future vision and business strategy put in place, the change will be surrounded by a high degree of ambiguity. Though the outcomes will have been set as targets and objectives, the road to change may meander on paths as yet untrodden. This uncertainty requires a creative approach, managed by leaders who are able to think ‘outside of the box’ and react with calmness under pressure.

Part of the change leadership process is the assessment of risk and reward. Not everything can be controlled, but those elements of a transformational change that are under the auspices of the change leader may impact upon other areas. It is not necessary to expend energy on those areas that cannot be directly affected. With more effort put into recognised strengths and areas of responsibility, influence will expand. With this influence come solutions to problems. Change leaders take time to internally debate problems ­– actual and potential – and discover possible solutions in all scenarios. They then take this awareness to their people and seek further ideas, objections, and clarification.

In short, change leaders recognise the ambiguous nature of organisational transformation and create relevant and flexible change leadership strategies based upon this ambiguity.

Adapting to the ambiguous nature of change

Leaders of change are acceptors of change, understanding that without change there is no progress. To improve capacity as a change leader, a good starting point is to improve capacity to accept change.  Here are five ways in which you can work on the skills needed as a change leader:

1 Create a sense of purpose

Your personal and professional values dictate how you react to certain situations and shape your mission in life. Spend time to question and reflect what motivates you and those around you. Knowing what you are doing and understanding why you are doing it is the foundation on which success is built. Lead change by creating a culture in which your people share the same sense of self-worth, core values, and future vision as you.

2 Practice flexibility

Organisational change can be disruptive for all stakeholders. Driving change often requires persistence, but more important is flexibility of thought and deed. If one method doesn’t work, then try another. Be creative, and seek innovative solutions to problems. Positive results will come, but a combination of tenacity and flexible thinking is the way to achieve the best results.

3 Don’t be an island: learn to discuss and be creative

Creativity is best achieved by being able to question standard approaches. We all have our own spheres of expertise, and our solutions can be tainted by these. Seek advice from outside influences, and discuss possible solutions with co-stakeholders. Learn to think outside the box, and your creative juices will flow further and more frequently. When this process beds in, then your ideation and decision-making will become a constant proactive process, rather than a reactive reflex.

4 Stay upbeat, despite the ambiguity

Ambiguity is bound to create uncertainty and hesitancy, especially if organisational transformation takes a dogleg. At these times, it is most important to remain positive and face the challenge head-on with optimism. Focus on the positive, and use the strengths of those around you to help shape the solution to the unexpected. Negativity wastes energy and distracts from the goal.

5 Project the big picture

If change has been well strategised and planned accordingly, the future vision will have been discussed and objectives cemented. Change, of course, is inevitable. Contrary to popular belief, people don’t hate change. In fact, people are used to change. We get married, have children, move house, and change jobs. Change in one’s personal life is every bit as constant as it is in business. People accept personal change as a part of life because they can see the benefits of the bigger picture. Project the big picture of your change project and you’ll be surprised how ‘up for the challenge’ your people are.

Change leadership has changed

Leading change in today’s more informed and fast-moving economy requires a more creative and collaborative approach than change management of yesteryear. Developing the skills to engender a ‘big picture’ approach from all your people, and leading by example − but also by consensus − will bring continuous transformational change into focus and instil it as a strategic business objective in itself.

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