What if the change you're trying to manage never actually stops? Constant change is the new normal. Learn how you need to move from change management to managing change—forever.
- Strategy is traditionally all about change management, going from what you are today to what you want to be tomorrow. But what if the change you're trying to manage never actually stops? You need to move from change management to managing change forever. So let's say that MegaCorp wants to manage the strategic change from a decentralized to a centralized organizational structure. Why? Well it turns out that the cycle between being decentralized and centralized is as old as human organization.
Back in the early '90s, I wrote a piece for a technology magazine that I called Scatter Gather from an old programmer's term for managing lots of information at once and leaving it scattered while information piles up, then gathering it together when the pile becomes unmanageable. Now organizational leaders practice scatter gather all the time. Decentralized organizations tend to be more nimble, but top management often gets nervous that it can't exert enough control. Centralized organizations tend to communicate more rapidly but their stiff hierarchies mean they can't move as quickly.
The truth is neither centralization nor decentralization is perfect. So organizations of any scale often cycle constantly between being centralized and decentralized in response to everything from changing market conditions to company mergers and acquisitions to changes in top managers. In fact, it's common to associate any big challenges with the organization structure so new leaders will tend to shift to the opposite approach, kicking off a series of reorganizations which usually tend to remind observers of something related to deck chairs and the Titanic.
Now how would they do that? They'd compare the current state, let's say decentralized, to the desired state of centralization. The change management plan would probably include consolidation of function, closing a number of remote facilities, and layoffs of redundant employees. But what is change is constant? What if our rapidly accelerating world is never going to give us the time to stop and compare two static states for the organization? And what if that ideal future state of the organization is literally never attainable because we simply are never going to completely get to that destination? In that context, change management that functions like reorganization looks pretty useless.
In fact, Lou Gerstner, the former CEO of IBM, has a great quote, "Reorganization to me is "shuffling boxes, moving boxes around. "Transformation means that you're really "fundamentally changing the way the organization thinks, "the way it responds, and the way it leads." Ah, so now we have it. Strategic agility isn't about reorganization. It's about transformation. We need to completely revamp our thinking about change management and instead think of the core organizational process as managing ongoing change as you perpetually engineer the transformation of the organization.
We need to stop thinking there's some mythical future state or destination that's achievable in our lifetimes. Instead we need to develop the set of practices that will allow us to treat that process as a lifelong journey where the organization has the kind of strategic empowerment to constantly change and grow.
- Strategy and the pace of change
- Becoming an adaptive organization
- Aligning activities with strategic goals
- Embracing a culture of risk
- Modeling adaptive behavior
- Maintaining an adaptive organization
- Streamlining your processes and practices
- Remaining agile over time