In my recent piece, entitled ‘Surviving cultural uncertainty,’ I posed questions that make great discussion topics to raise awareness of attitudes, behaviours and practices that block change.
From these questions, the three below in my experience represent the biggest blockers to change when mishandled.
- 1. What do the people at the top pay attention to?
What people at the top pay attention to, including how they allocate budgets and resources, is a big influence over practice and behaviour.
Two CEOs in different businesses wanted to develop a new business stream.
CEO A set this as a strategic goal. However, it wasn’t followed through and the idea fizzled out. Why? The CEO just left people to get on with it, paying the matter scant attention, and focusing personal attention mostly on the areas that were bringing in the money. So, developing the new business stream was perceived as unimportant and dropped off busy work schedules. The CEO was furious at year-end to find out no progress had been made.
CEO B on the other hand, asked for regular feedback, referred regularly to the new business stream in conversations, and other communications, ensured budgets made allowance for the initiative and gave public recognition for effort. The new business stream was advancing well by the year-end.
- 2. What happens when people make mistakes?
If businesses are to encourage innovation, people must be allowed to fail without this harming their performance assessments, or their career prospects. Otherwise, people will only play safe and stick to what is already known to work.
Example: Two businesses were both undergoing critical strategic transformation. In both cases, the changes were forced on them by regulatory and market changes. Org A set up a new initiative but it turned out to be unsuccessful. The performance of the people who had worked on this was assessed separately from the success of the initiative. Two were deemed suitable for promotion, which they successfully achieved, and the other people received appropriate salary reviews that were not linked to the poor performance of the initiative, but to their efforts and abilities. This created a culture where people were unafraid to accept high risk, or try something new. The reverse happened in Org B, which eventually failed because of its inability to adapt.
- 3. What happens when people get ideas
Business today is too fast-moving, complex, global and connected for innovation and strategic change to be left as a responsibility of a few, specific people. Everyone at all levels of the organization must be empowered to spot change on the horizon, and turn this into an opportunity for the business.
For this to happen, it is essential that people are listened to, and are allowed to try out new ideas. In too many organizations I know, people either think no one is interested in their opinion, or they put an idea forward but their bosses are too busy, and the idea falls off everyone’s to do list.
The most successful organizations today have flexible processes that allow people to put forward ideas, and try them out. These processes must include early identification of probable success. If the idea is likely to work, then there must be the ability to scale up quickly. If it looks unlikely to succeed, then the ability to pull it without career harm to the people involved is key.
These points seem simple and obvious. Perhaps that is why they are so often overlooked. People expect them to be the case, and do not realise that they take conscious time and effort.