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As human beings, we know when a change is required.  We may yearn to grow, personally or professionally, or need to feel more fulfilled and motivated.  We may feel bored, or see others evolving, whilst we are not, and know we are in a rut.  If we put these same situations into a business context, we should also recognise when it’s the right time for organisational change.

Isn’t this when business growth has stalled, when the organisation’s energy has sapped and when the product or service has become boring?  Shouldn’t corporate change occur when our scanning of the macro-environment tells us that our competitors are evolving, whilst we are standing still?  And what about the moments we don’t expect that demand businesses to change?  Global pandemics and War are top of mind.

The answer is ‘yes’ and ‘no’.  Let’s start with the ‘no’.  A Harvard Business Review (HBR) article in 2010, argued companies should “no longer view change as a discrete event to be managed, but as a “constant opportunity to evolve the business.”[i] They declared, “Change readiness is the new change management”, defining change readiness as the ability to continuously initiate and respond to change in ways that create advantage, minimise risk and sustain performance, balancing internal and external focus, to achieve all three.

So, in this sense, it should always be the right time for change; the conditions for it should always exist.  McKinsey says three and five-year plans are dead.  Organisations require agility and adaptivity, showing fluidity and responsiveness to new situations, both external and internal. “Mastering the art of change quickly is now a critical competitive advantage.”

As there is a 70% failure rate for change programmes, mastery is key.   Programmes succeed in the 30% of cases in which there is the full investment of employees and managers.  So, for most organisations, it isn’t simply a case of flicking a switch. 

HBR talks about the need for change ability.  Leaders must inspire trust and confidence and engage their teams in change delivery.  The risks need to be predicted and the reactions to new methodologies carefully handled.  That does not mean suppressing negative responses, but openly acknowledging resistance and explaining why change is required.  Leaders should prepare, by working on their resilience, influencing skills and communication techniques.

Change also needs to be delivered in a strategic, cross-departmental manner, integrating new processes or behaviours into existing systems.  Team leaders have to be visibly committed to what is happening and the resources to effectively elicit change need to be available.

The vision needs to be fully defined and supported with clear timescales and means of measuring success.  A robust change strategy, drawing on the conclusions of feasibility studies, should exist and be supported by all teams. Communications need to be bolstered and increased.  Employee buy-in is key.

It all sounds clear cut so far, the part that many miss is that leaders also need to be prepared to alter the change strategy, as they go.  McKinsey says, “To make change happen, you must generate the energy to execute the plan and change it on the fly.”[ii] It talks of change being a journey and few change journeys going to plan.  A lot of this, we believe, is because change leaders fail to acknowledge the continually shifting context and the need to prepare, nurture and support anyone impacted by current and future change journeys, so that the readiness signal is always on ‘green’!

So back to the question, when is it the right time for change?  As we continue our business journey through the post pandemic world, and now sadly a world where Russia has commenced a War with Ukraine, there is a tangible need for change within many organisations.  Experts talk of the pandemic having offered a once-in-a-generation opportunity for change; a unique “unfreezing opportunity.”[iii]  Organisations need to become more people-orientated, more organic and more purpose-filled, to succeed. 

Our advice here at Space2BE is to embrace change and not freeze when all the signals suggest it is required.  The right time for change is always now but getting change right may require leadership and change management training. To talk through the programmes most relevant to you, please call 0208 720 6991.