Culture and technology around the world are rapidly progressing, and the only clear prediction we can make about the future is that change will continue to occur at every level of society. Most businesses have realised that they must follow these changes to keep up with the new world – and others have decided to actually become leaders and drive the change further forward.
But managing that change has proved to be a bigger challenge than many business leaders realise. When steering a large ship in the ocean, charting a new course takes considerable effort because so many of the moving parts need to make precise adjustments in sync with each other. Businesses implementing change programmes also need to coordinate their internal efforts towards cooperation. Performing this task effectively requires a series of commitments, some of which may be counterintuitive.
Real vs cosmetic change
The first paradox relates to the structure of change. The decision to re-calibrate an organisation is most commonly made at the top. It therefore follows that executives would determine the type of change needed while also overseeing implementation. This view, however, neglects the very reason for change in the first place, which is – in most cases – to encourage a more vibrant and participatory company culture.
If you are taking a top-down approach by imposing greater equality or democracy through direct command, then there is something deeply contradictory about the message you are sending to your employees. Your directives may be accompanied by much rhetoric about change, but in practice, your employees will recognise them as representing continuity under another name.
An inclusive approach should be at the heart of your change programme – both in terms of the change itself as well as how it is implemented. Diversity and inclusion are more than just trends and buzzwords; they signal the amount of input your company receives in its quest to improve. If changes all come out of the boardroom, then your organisation will fail to receive ideas from most of its employees – the very employees, incidentally, who are closest to the action.
The fate of any change programme depends largely on the extent to which it is adopted and embraced by the employees across the organisation. If your employees receive encouragement and incentives for sharing their ideas, they will come up with more of them, and they will also be far more likely to take ownership of those ideas.
A receding horizon
The second paradox surrounding change management involves the ultimate goals it aims to achieve. The more successful a change programme is, the less its success can be measured definitively, because it is always continuing. Change is like a horizon: you can aim for it, but you will never reach your final destination because there is always further to go.
Technology continues to advance, allowing for new types of business processes, greater streamlining, better articulation and presentation of ideas, faster implementation, cleaner and better production methods, and so on. Positive change therefore must be embedded in the day-to-day nature of your business practice; it is more a direction than a destination.
Change is also not only something to be performed at the lower levels of an organisation. Feedback must also be allowed to travel freely upwards, creating a meritocracy of ideas. If efforts at change are ignored by the leadership, the change loses its power, and the rest of the organisation may also lose their belief in the new direction. Everyone must buy in to the new direction – most of all the leaders.
Showing the way forward
The best way to promote a business culture of respect, understanding, acceptance, engagement and commitment is to make these same qualities the centre of your approach to change management itself.
Most of us are comfortable in our routines, and need inspiration to help us shake free from this complacency. By creating a positive and welcoming environment to accompany the change programme, people will find it much easier to adopt the necessary mindset, and contribute positively to the journey ahead.