The saying above translates to “The more things change, the more they stay the same”.
We don’t implement change just for the sake of implementing change.
Sponsors are funding our projects to deliver business value and often times, achieving that business value requires that people change how or what they are doing on an ongoing basis.
And in spite of significant interest and focus on organization change management over the past couple of decades, that remains the Achilles Heel of many change initiatives.
An appropriate sense of urgency may have been instilled, effective communications may have been planned and implemented, and the “to be” state might have had input and committed advocacy from representatives from multiple stakeholder groups. But how often does that emphasis persist beyond the first few months after the change is implemented? The effort required to sustain the change wanes, and focus usually shifts to the next bright, shiny bauble.
What are some contributors to this?
- Executive musical chairs – when leaders change roles every two years or even more frequently, the ability to champion the sustainment of a transformation requires their successors to have the same agendas as they did. This is rarely the case – most leaders want to be known for introducing changes than sustaining a previously implemented one. Until organizations begin to incent leaders to remain in their roles for a meaningful length of time, sustainability of any meaningful changes is likely to be at risk.
- Short-termism – while this behavor is more common in publicly traded companies, it is also a sin of many private ones. The emphasis on short-term profits means that the effort required to sustain a change past the early post-implementation days are likely to be redirected to launch new initiatives.
- Continuous change – a basic tenet of most process excellence frameworks is that you must first confirm process stability before assessing and improving capability. But if there is no time allowed between change initiatives impacting a particular stakeholder group to fully adopt the new procedures, the process is never stable.
These can create a vicious cycle – as more and more changes get implemented with poor sustainment, stakeholders become less and less likely to commit their efforts to more changes. You’ll get superficial buy-in, but no follow through which ensures that future changes have an even lower likelihood of succeeding.
Start with the end in mind.
Knowing that sustainment might be your biggest challenge, expend the effort upfront to figure out how to overcome this, and if the likelihood of successful sustainment is low, make that information a key input into the decision of whether or not to proceed with the change initiative.
Just because you can implement change, doesn’t mean you should.