Time for new thinking about change

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Dr. Moses Altsech

Managing change is so frequently reactive — a chore mandated by necessity (usually in response to external factors) and pregnant with the fear of uncertainty. But instead of being a response to a threat, it can be the strategic pursuit of opportunity.

Change doesn’t have to be about coping. It can and should be about engaging everyone in an organization to create and bring a vision to life. We’re riding the wave of a long period of growth and economic prosperity, which means we can look to the future without the pressures that tough times inevitably bring. The perfect time to say “what if” is now.

Nonetheless, efforts to change are notorious for hitting a brick wall and understanding why is essential to avoiding the pitfalls. For example, I’ve told my students about a multimillion-dollar company with thousands of employees that was about to embark on a major transformational effort. It was headed by a leadership team adamant that they didn’t need a formal change management plan, in spite of evidence that without one, the failure rate is overwhelmingly high. Without buy-in at the top, nothing happens because there’s no cohesive plan, the necessary resources are not allocated, and the project never gains the “escape velocity” needed to break out of the status quo.

Just as importantly, change is certain to take people out of their comfort zone, which is why it requires identifying or grooming champions at all levels of an organization. Some projects involve a change in the company’s culture, and it’s this type of change that is often met with resistance. Charging head on without evangelists for change gives the naysayers a loud, unchecked voice to nip the effort in the bud.

Celebrating early milestones (even small milestones) is essential to maintaining momentum but is commonly deferred or not considered at all. Worse yet, progress is hard to measure without the right metrics that are often absent or poorly constructed. Progress is not just about hitting milestones, it’s also about measuring support for and engagement with change across the organization. You can’t address problems you haven’t identified in the first place; when it comes to metrics, an ounce of prevention is worth pounds of cure.

Take a moment to think about your next ambitious project. Maybe it’s time to redefine your corporate culture in a way that still reflects your mission and vision but better integrates multiple generations of employees. Perhaps you want to get away from canned staff or leadership training programs in favor of creating one specifically tailored to your organization. You may have realized that you’ve never measured how your brand is perceived by your employees, partners, clients, and prospects alike. Yet that’s an integral part of your plan to create a customer-service culture.

Perhaps your project is a very complex technical challenge, like an enterprise resource planning (ERP) implementation. No matter how complex, managing change is possible to get right the first time. Having a detailed plan complete with implementation strategies and the right metrics, creating champions, engaging everyone from the CEO to the newest intern, and celebrating success every step of the way, is easier said than done. But it’s worth the effort because change is the secret sauce of innovation, sustainable competitiveness, and continuous improvement.

Let’s stop fearing change and being allergic to potentially beneficial uncertainty. Let’s embrace them, harness them, and see them as the catalysts of success. After all, the old saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is both bad English and bad advice.

Dr. Moses Altsech teaches at the top 10 ranked Marketing Department at the Wisconsin School of Business and is the president of Moses Altsech Consulting LLC. www.callmoses.com

Click here to sign up for the free IB ezine — your twice-weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices, and the names you need to know. If you are not already a subscriber to In Business magazine, be sure to sign up for our monthly print edition here.