Managers face change everyday. Employees call in sick, necessitating a change in the schedule. Competitors release an amazing new service, forcing change in the business model. Customer demands call us away from our status quo. Change is difficult for some managers; others seem to welcome it. Successful change management often requires us to relinquish old habits, to let go of activities or ideas with which we’ve become comfortable.
In his book The Power of Habit (Random House 2012), Charles Duhigg reports that 95 percent of the decisions managers make involve “small choices” that are almost always driven by what he calls organizational habits. “We’ve always done it that way” is one of the strongest forces in business. When you’re faced with dozens of decisions everyday, it’s simply a matter of good time management to choose an action that has worked in the past.
One aspect of change management I’ve found helpful is to resist the emotional excitement or pain that comes with doing something new by intellectualizing the process. Doing this allows you to manage the change rather than allowing the change to manage you.
Here’s an example. Two of my clients are approaching change in their organizations from distinctly different perspectives. Both clients provide goods and services to the business community, and both have been serving their specific industry for more than 10 years.
Client A is solidly positioned in the industry, but demand for their primary product has been declining. Market penetration has reached an apex. Everyone who might buy the product has done so. My assignment in this case is to help the company explore new product ideas that will bring them back to the top in their industry.
Client B has a great product that is in high demand, but the delivery method is outdated. Revenue is shrinking as customers find it difficult to use the product. My job involves helping them develop new ways to deliver their successful product.
Each company is approaching change from a dissimilar direction: Client A will succeed by finding new things to do in the same industry. Client B will succeed by finding new opportunities for an existing product. When you face a need for change, you can either do a different thing or you can do things differently. (Read that again, slowly). This subtle-butimportant distinction should be addressed early in any change scenario. Getting the right answer early on could be the key to a successful change process.
At your next management meeting, look at organizations you know who have successfully navigated change and determine whether the change involved doing a different thing or doing things differently.
Then find a situation or issue in your organization that needs to be changed (it doesn’t need to be a big problem) and ask which approach would bring about the desired result.