Urgency about the need to get things done… some faces of microlending in Honduras… The Grove Consultant International’s strategic visioning workshop in Dallas on Sept. 9-11, 2009 at Southern Methodist University. All are items in this letter.
Stop a minute to ponder why change projects in organizations fail. And the long-term consequences of those failed efforts.
Lots of stats and studies point to failed change efforts… here are a few looking through different change lenses:
70% of needed change fails to be launched, fails to be completed or finishes over budget, late and with initial aspirations unmet.
20% of organizations with total quality projects achieve objectives; over 40% of reported efforts were a complete flop.
Nearly ¾ of firms are worse off long-term after downsizing than before.
85% of firms report little or no gain from reengineering.
80% of acquisitions are neutral or negative to shareholder value.
Company, organization leaders offer up all sorts of reasons for failed change. I see it, hear it first hand when I visit with clients, prospects. It’s a familiar litany:
We did the strategic plan and it sat on a shelf.
We were busy putting out fires, reacting to the latest crisis.
Our culture killed it.
We didn’t know what was happening; no one communicated anything.
We were fat and happy… you know… if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
We didn’t have the money, resources we needed to make the necessary fixes.
The effort sort of petered out over several months when nothing happened.
We did it a couple of months ago… it was a one-off, but it didn’t stick.
The deal guys put us together; we didn’t plan for the merger.
Look underneath the excuses…
In nearly every case you’ll see complacency or a false sense of urgency as the most important cause of the failed change efforts. Change guru John P. Kotter writes about urgency in his latest book, A Sense of Urgency.
Complacency comes from previous success, years of having been on top, of Tiffany-like reputation, of wins, real or perceived, over a period of time.
The problem is the world outside every organization is changing. So change inside an organization is essential for continued success.
Complacency is more pervasive than people recognize, writes Kotter. And it’s often invisible to insiders.
People feel content with the status quo. They ignore new opportunities or hazards, focus inward, do whatever has been the norm.
Hubris is right up there with complacency. People become arrogant, writes management expert Jim Collins in his latest book, How the Mighty Fall. They see success as an entitlement. They lose sight of the true underlying factors that created success in the first place.
Hubris definition: Excessive pride that brings down a hero, outrageous arrogance that inflicts suffering on the innocent.
Company leaders spout the rhetoric of success. We’ve been successful because we do these things.
Rhetoric replaces understanding and insight… understanding what certain things work and under what conditions.
Overestimating merit and capabilities when luck was important is a telltale sign that a company or organization has succumbed to hubris.
How can you orchestrate a true sense of urgency… not a false one where folks run around in a frenzy, doing meaningless things as a way to stave off disaster?
It’s about a gut-level determination to move and win, now! It’s about capturing BOTH hearts and minds. It’s about creating the chemistry on your team that every winning team has…which allows that team to achieve more than it dreamed possible. It’s about understanding that change is expensive, you can pay now or pay later, but you will pay one way or another. Daryl R. Conner, another change expert, points this out in his book, Managing at the Speed of Change.
As a way to move forward…
Go outside the walls and windows of your organization to see what others do. I’ve taken clients on field trips, brought in experts, helped them investigate best practices.
Behave as if every day, every hour REALLY counts. I’ve repeatedly pushed clients to put change initiatives at the top of their lists. And asked them to think about little things…being on time for meetings, instead of starting 10 minutes late or rearranging schedules so change tasks take priority.
Look for opportunity in crisis. I’ve repeatedly pushed for ways to thrive regardless of the situation. I’ve found scenario planning with clients is a good way to imagine a crisis situation and how to respond, prosper in tough times.
Sideline naysayers. I’ve worked with clients on stakeholder analyses to identify naysayers and ways to either win them over or find alternative courses of action.