Editorial: Rethinking Change Management

By Len Monheit

As Bob Dylan wrote, back on 1964, “The times they are a-changin” speaking then about some of the social pressures and forces changing society, but he may as well have been speaking about some core business realities at the same time.

Dylan went on to observe, “


For the loser now

Will be later to win…..


he that gets hurt

Will be he who has stalled


And don't criticize

What you can't understand……..

I’d like to examine these observations in a current context.

These are certainly changeable times. With an uncertain economy, changing regulatory environment, rising material and transportation costs and a focus on food/product quality, companies and leaders are being forced to rethink business processes and relationships at an alarming rate. And here’s where it gets increasingly complicated in this information charged world.

Quantum theory proposes the environment where the act of taking the measurement changes the status of the object being measured. In this case, the very act of challenging business processes creates a ripple effect on the very business processes and behaviors being analyzed in the first place. In most organizations, there are so many concurrent moving parts or beliefs, that all but the best organizations become paralyzed, numbed or purely reactive to signal events.

Asimov, (http://www.thephoenixprinciple.com/quotes/2004/11/isaac_asimov_th.html) wrote, “The only constant is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be.”

Yet, without 20/20 foresight, how can an organization properly prepare for ‘what will be’? Here’s where we pick up Dylan again, with the loser ultimately winning, the ones that stall getting hurt and chastising those that criticize what they don’t understand.

Perhaps the middle observation is most critical, and I’ve spoken in the past of analysis/paralysis and companies taking a wait and see who survives approach to marketing, opportunity and product development. While they’re doing this, companies are reinventing and new models are being born. This ties very closely to the third observation, criticizing what is not understood, and we see individuals and organizations sticking to concepts and models, only because they’re tried and true. Moreover, some can get pretty critical of those with new systems and beliefs, and often try to box those beliefs in frameworks they understand, rather than understanding that sometimes the fundamental framework is flawed. Some can argue that much of our communications and social environment is in that state right now, with Internet, TV, radio, print media, in person events all vying for attention.

Small wonder then that most over-stimulated consumers (here I mean any audience) suffer from shiny object syndrome where their attention span goes through attrition at such a pace that eventually they filter out all but a very narrow spectrum that meets very tightly defined criteria. Similarly, when they reach out for information such as on the web or even in TV channel selection, they’ve also got their ‘blinders’ on and have rigidly defined the type of information that they will allow an interaction with them.

When we consider that this pattern too is changing, what then? Well, predictably, we see it in the drive for simplicity and simplification, the momentum to validate sources (of information, products) etc. We also see ‘bundling’ of related products and services meeting the pre-defined selection criteria – made possible by complex algorithms and other tools – you liked this, you’ll probably like this as well….all of which leads to one of the value propositions of social media, the concept of ‘finding and interacting with others like me’.

Let’s go back to the business environment for a minute and talk about change again. How does an organization really keep all options open? Or is that really practical? How does it capture an assessment of options, eliminate those not viable, and keep moving forward even while the circumstances that were part of its original assessment change entirely? How much of that original assessment is still valid? What must be rethought? What new factors must be introduced? How do you make the right decision at all?

Once again, at an organization’s worst moments, this leads to analysis/paralysis. Probably even more frustrating, at least for the employees involved, is that this often leads, over years, to the same market and opportunity assessments being written – repeatedly. Questions like, ‘should we expand to Europe and Asia’, ‘should we go through a distributor’, ‘should we invest in a costly clinical trial’, or even more predictably, ‘should we support this trade association or that’ suck more energy out of organizations and individuals, especially when the organization does not have the project management and tracking skills to understand the dialogue that has gone before.

Many of the conversations on trade show floors are the same as five years ago. Much of the coverage in trade publications parallels closely that of several years ago, with a few new players and products superimposed on the same paradigms and dialogue points.

In a few select instances, we see companies breaking both mold and framework. We also see companies with effective intelligence systems that stick to plan even while incorporating new evidence into the master direction. Of course, an organization has to have both a plan and master direction and many we observe certainly have neither.

So while the ‘times are a-changin’, fundamental behaviors all too often do not. Ironically too, as Dylan expressed too well, those that attempt to drive change often find themselves bogged down by the inertia if not the outright criticism of the whole.

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