Organizations tend to speak about purpose and change as if they are separate subjects. Increasingly, we’ve been asking whether the two could and should be much more closely linked, prompting a shift in question from “Change – to what end?” to “Change – to what purpose?”
If we could focus change on ideas that were more universal than corporate and that spread the perceived benefits more broadly, would that make a difference to the success rate? Because right now, the emphasis on change programs to accelerate growth is not working. John Kotter’s assertion that change, as it is currently implemented, mostly fails is well canvassed and, it appears, time-proven.
Around 70% of large-scale change programs fail to meet their goals – and a key reason for that, according to Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini, is that organizations cannot resist managing the implementation of change rather than looking for ways to psychologically and systematically embed it. In effect, the authors suggest, most change programs are too late, too self-serving, too autocratic and too engineered to succeed.
In a world fixated on agile and nimble companies, creating a business that can adapt – and innovate – quickly is difficult. The means moves faster than the minds and at a pace that significantly exceeds habit, embedded behaviors and culture. Simplistically the failures seem a classic case of “the process” over “the people”.
Perhaps a better way forward would be to look at change through an entirely different lens.
The alternative Hamel and Zanini suggest is the introduction of change platforms that syndicate and democratize change across the organization, that are based on initiative rather than mandate and that encourage free-form experimentation and adaptation rather than project-managed milestones. Such an approach, they assert, encourages wider and more accountable participation, fosters honest conversation, diversifies solutions rather than seeking to close everything down to a single answer and seeds local experimentation that can then be refined in a less risky environment before becoming part of the full way forward.