Tales from the transformation crypt

It is commonly reported that the vast majority of organisational change efforts either fail outright or materially fall short of their objectives.  While this has long been evident in the context of business mergers, systems implementations and organisational restructures, this less-than-was-hoped-for experience appears equally applicable to today’s lean start-ups, digital transformations and competitive responses to our increasingly discontinuous world.

It is perhaps perverse comfort for the current generations to imagine themselves as the first to face threats to prevailing industry models and business survival, a message reinforced in musings such as those about XOs (a.k.a. the exponential organisation).   But to do so ignores a modern economic history littered with redundant products and services, by-gone businesses and extinct industry models that succumbed to the mindset that the world is stable, markets and consumers predictable and change pathways linear.

It is inevitable that the pace of change will continue astride in the face of ever more affordable and capable digital technologies, changing consumer expectations, generational change and ‘black swan’ disruptions.  Change is here and it’s here to stay.

Change can be inherently hard.  But how often do we make it harder than it need be, simply because we ignore what has been shown or is known to work.  

The lessons of effective change management are often hiding in plain sight, if only we take the time to look, reflect and learn.

Learning from common change missteps

It was Thomas Edison who, with respect to his efforts to invent the light globe, reportedly said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”. 

And it was author Sam Levenson who proffered, “You must learn from the mistakes of others.  You can’t possibly live long enough to make them all yourself”. 

There are plentiful learnings to be had by critically examining what doesn’t work.  So rather than attempt to trumpet success, in a series of coming blogs I will offer the following hard-won learnings from change efforts that I have led, (mis)guided, suffered or witnessed over almost 40 years of professional life. 

May my missteps – and those of others – be your good fortune…