It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change. ~often attributed to Charles Darwin
Whether or not Darwin actually said this, it certainly holds true in the rapidly changing global world of business we find ourselves in today. Giant businesses just a few decades ago, or less, are no longer in business. Our children won’t know about the once dominance of Kodak films, Phones and PDAs from Nokia or Motorola or Blackberry, international air travel on PanAm or videos from Blockbuster. Gone and replaced by new technology while they stood still.
It seems that nearly every CEO has “change or die” tattooed on their foreheads. It’s a tough life trying to protect current revenues and profits while at the same time looking over your shoulder for disruptive technologies and “giant killer” start-ups.
In the pressure to pursue change the holy grail of CEOs and change management consulting firms is “Big Change”, making a quantum shift in the business that creates significant competitive advantage. Bam! Pow! Shazam! Done. Transformed in one giant leap.
Large-scale transformational change looks sexy on paper, or should I say Powerpoint presentations, and the spreadsheet forecasts are definitely compelling as expected growth and profit margins show a future of double-digit territory.
There are two problems with “Big Change”, one small and one big.
The small problem is that big change events cause leaders, managers and employees to take their eyes off the current business. Meetings increase as new changes are planned and mapped out. Market research and strategy sessions take leaders away from current customer needs. People are working two jobs and doing neither very well. In short order the business performance tends to slow down and competitors gain market share.
The big problem with “Big Change” is that it simply doesn’t work!
Most large-scale change programmes, whether IT transformation, culture change or the execution of a new strategy simply don’t deliver to the degree expected. A study by Martin Smith tested the common belief that 30% of all change efforts fail. His research shows very clearly the poor results of large-scale change:
Make Big Change in Small, Continuous Steps
The fossil record of evolution appears as if evolution happens in big jumps, since all we see are fossils from various time periods. In actual fact, evolution, let’s say from early fish to land reptiles took many millions of years and was a slow process of genetic variation, environmental changes and survival of those best adapted. A very slow process.
I’m not suggested we wait millions of years. I am suggesting that the best path to staying ahead of the competition is to continuously adapt in small steps. All the time.
Leadership and management development should be a continuous process of adding new skills, competencies and capabilities on an ongoing basis. This year’s management development course should not be the same as last year. This year’s talent selection criteria should not be the same as last year. Products and services should continue to evolve in order to meet the evolving needs and demands of customers. Leadership at the top should change roles in order to gain new perspectives and bring new ideas and learn to understand other parts of the business.
The sad truth is, too many companies keep doing the same thing over and over (maybe with a little cost cutting thrown in) until Big Change is the only option!
Continuous improvement or Big Leap Transformation. The choice is yours.
See the review of LEVERAGE in The Economist (January 9, 2014.
John also writes thriller novels: novels.johnrchildress.com