In the modern world we don’t have a lot of time for change to settle in or bed down before the next change comes along. The freeze, change, re-freeze model, for example, just doesn’t fit the current climate, and not would you expect it to as it was defined in 1947 for different times and a different world.
But if there is no time to re-freeze then there is a risk that the change you are embarking on wont take. Indeed with many change programmes around the world failing to deliver their stated investment case, one part of that failure is probably down to the lack of stabilization that rapid change can bring.
Freeze / stabilization not only embeds change in the physical systems of your organisation but most importantly embeds in the belief system I.e becomes part of your culture. Belief in change takes time and a lot of people these days suspend their belief for as long as they can because they have seen so many changes come to nothing it makes sense to not fully invest until they are sure.
In times of rapid change, managers can move on from the change too quickly, declare that it’s finished before the workforce has bought in, with the result that what the workforce sees is lack of commitment to the change I.e they were right to withhold belief.
Managers then move on to another change, fanfare a brave new world, employees say ‘here we go again, this will be just like the last one’ and the cycle of incomplete, un-stabilized change initiatives keeps on going. Think about it; is the reason younger employees are often more up for change than their older colleagues a function of age but a function of living through more of these cycles?
So,we don’t have time to stabilize and we need to keep change moving, yet we can’t afford to have change that fails to deliver, what do we do?
I believe that leaders need to treat fast paced change as an evolution of the last and build on what has gone before.
Too much change still throws at what went before because managers think that their change has to be seen to be transformational. Transformational change was the big buzzword twenty years ago, when the organisation you were looking at hadn’t moved in years and a lot of old systems really did need to be thrown out. But it has left a legacy of people thinking that’s what you do in change; throw everything out. Indeed the kind of things that created transformational change twenty years ago are often commonplace now where IT platforms shift dramatically, technology gives us more and more data in more readily accessible ways for example. Twenty years ago a cloud was something you got rain from!
The benefits of building on the last change, when you have a shorter change cycle, is that the building process increases belief in the last change at a time when the workforce are just about ready to decide whether to believe in it or not (managers always reach their belief point quicker because they have longer to invest in the change before it is launched on the workforce).
Instead of saying ‘here is a whole new thing’, try saying ‘we’ve been embedding project alpha for nine months and now we’d like to apply the alpha model to a new situation and widen our focus’. Can the principles of your last change be used to float the next change? Can the messages you put out before be morphed and expanded? Can the training in alpha be refreshed to launch beta whilst also embedding alpha in the culture of your organisation?
Rome wasnt built in a day, nor was it built by tearing it down every year. It was built on the foundations of the last build.