There are several professions (Process Improvement Engineers, Business Process Analysts, Organizational Development Specialists, all Six Sigma and other Lean followers) that specifically deal with bringing change and progress into organizations, helping companies to secure their chance for a long term survival. However notwithstanding the pride and sense of accomplishment that this activity brings, many change practitioners are frustrated or I’d rather say perplexed with the understanding that the improvements don’t stick around for as long as one would hope for, even when the process of change implementation went OK. One could easily understand the frustration of all those who put their soul into making the change possible, solemnly believing that this change would lead to continuous progress, then discovering that the effect was only temporary. There are a lot of discussions online and off line around the subject of “why change doesn’t stick”,so I felt that this subject is important enough to deserve further comment. Especially that I plan to discuss the most important subjects of Change Management and Continuous Improvement in this blog.
For starters, let’s try to remember that there is nothing more permanent than change itself. We are not living in a static world, but in one that’s constantly on the move. Because it’s a world driven by competition and competition is a constant race. To be sure, inducing a change is hard, because we are working against the system’s natural inertia; however, it would be naive to assume that once the change has been introduced, the system will just accept a new static position. The truth is that the transitional period never ends, as the system cannot ever restore its initial state after being disturbed by the change. And this transitional stage will require even more coordination and constant work. So my point is, that the expectation of having a static state (i.e. time to rest and do nothing) “after you bring change” is completely unrealistic. And it’s actually a good thing.
Did you know that there was an actual revolution in the world of fighter jets in the 70s’? Up until the introduction of F-16 “Fighting Falcon” it was in the bounds of basic common sense to make airplanes aerodynamically stable, meaning that they tended to stay on the course if left alone. But modern fighter jets have to dodge guided missiles in a blink of an eye, and it would be much easier if they were inherently unstable, because overcoming your own inertia takes too much time. Of course staying in the air while being unstable takes a lot of coordination, but that is exactly what we have computers for, don’t we? So, since the F-16 most fighter jets are made aerodynamically unstable, ready to maneuver at the moment’s notice due the simple understanding that in severely contested environments you don’t need complete stability!
No organization can stay unchanged; the only question is how big are the fluctuations of change that the company is able to undertake. The success of change could be measured by how far those fluctuations are from the optimal path, much more dependent on strategy and organizational culture than on operational matters such as number of failed projects. Yes, some projects will not go exactly as planned, however any endeavor will bring a new spin of change to organization – this why this process is called Continuous Improvement.
Continuous improvement is not a rigid path. It’s a long sequence of trials and errors (as any other process of evolution), while some processes just could be more guided/coached/led than others. To make a conclusion whether the change has made the contribution it was destined to make requires an analysis spread over a considerable period of time. Many changes bring counterintuitive results, which could be truly evaluated only in conjunctions with additional factors.
So to sum up, change is never going to “stick”, but it will come to pave the road to further progress and to serve as a next step in the evolution of the system. By expecting companies to stick with the change we practically are depriving them from the mere advantage of being unstable enough to perform the next maneuver quickly enough. Having in mind that change is only a step towards the next change in line, the right questions that should be asked are “how to ensure we leveraged current change to its full potential?” and “when is the optimal time for the next change to be introduced?”
I hope that this simple understanding will make your efforts to introduce and sustain changes in your organization somewhat easier. If you are the one who has to deal with this frustrating subject – do not worry. Just think of yourself as a fighter jet. 🙂