Choosing your change- A climbing lesson

Pick your mountain

Your reasons for change will perhaps have the biggest influence on the type and scale of change your organisation goes for. Of course sometimes there’s no accounting for the whims of men, but for the most part, a business will react proportionately to either the threats they face or the individual, benevolent desires of their leaders i.e. growth, leaning out, culture change etc.

What follows are some other things to consider, along with your reasons for change, when choosing what route you and your business should take.

A single summit

One change. One peak to reach. You know just what you’re aiming for and what you hope to see at the end of it. This is appealing, especially for those new to organisational change, limited in resources or faced with a very specific threat.

But don’t be fooled. Just because you’re attempting one change doesn’t necessarily equate to an easy ride. The same goes for climbing. Just because it’s one mountain doesn’t mean it’ll be quick and easy. Even a single change project requires proper, in depth planning and understanding of what’s about to be undertaken.

However, having just one change in mind can have it’s benefits. Focused intention, direction and use of resources, mainly. A single change gives clarity which can be a big help to employees undergoing it. Their leaders have told them why they’re changing and now they know exactly what it will be. This contrasts quite heavily with wanting to change several things at once.

Though it should be noted that changing one thing often uncovers other unforeseen projects and areas of the business that need tending to if the original change is to work as well as it should. Leaders should be ready for this happening and decide on their course of action in advance.

Do you deal with things as and when they come up or do you expand the single project into a preemptive web of change activity? Do you decide to climb more than one mountain?

A range of peaks

The desire to climb a range of mountains is audacious and has the potential to establish their climbers as heroes. Achievers of something great. So too, those who successfully accomplish a host of big changes within their firm are revered as great leaders.

But attempting a range of changes brings with it even more challenges which need to be factored in by those considering it.

Everything involved in attempting a single change is multiplied not only by the number of changes being carried out but also by the interrelation of all things within an organisation. Little, if anything, happens in isolation within a business. Carrying out multiple changes at once can seriously muddy the waters if not managed well.

Strict leadership is needed to ensure all changes are being looked after at the correct pace. A problem or stall in one area can easily have a knock on effect on other changes being carried out.

If multiple peaks of change are what you’re striving for then incredible planning is needed before you step out the front door and constant revision is vital as the reality of it all plays out. Priorities can become confusing when so much is being altered within a business and there can often be contention about which area deserves the most attention.

Handling this requires a mix of logic and judgement. Some changes will have a natural order that needs to be followed i.e. change B can’t happen before change Aor change X needs doing if we want changes Y and Z to ever happen. Map these orders out and follow them. If faced with a multitude of changes that don’t rely upon each other, review which changes will bring the biggest benefit and soonest and work through the list.

The effects of a range on your team

Setting your sights on more than one change will inevitably take it’s toll on your employees, as would climbing mountain after mountain quickly fatigue an expedition. As discussed in the last post, change has a way of invoking a variety of reactions from people affected by it. Not all positive. How will your people feel when change is demanded of them again and again and again?

There’s a good chance of either a growing desensitization to it all or just outright frustration and anger. Even the most fervent supporters of change have their limits.

For prolonged change you need your quick wins and a steady supply of them. Take the time and deliberately plan to celebrate each victory you come across on your journey. How else will people know you’re making progress? It fosters belief in the idea that change is happening successfully and that it’s actually worth all the trouble. And for those involved in the project’s implementation, they need to see their efforts rewarded. They need their fires stoked if they’re to set upon the next project right away.

Beyond the achievement of quick wins, the creation of a change culture would be the ultimate solution if you desire a business and staff that operates under the banner of continual improvement.

Following footsteps

There is nothing new under the sun. A debatable and cliched proverb but a useful one to bear in mind when choosing and planning change in an organisation.

A lot has been tried before. A lot has worked and even more hasn’t in the world of change. Chances are someone, somewhere, has attempted the same thing as you’re intending or at least something very similar. And the accounts are probably at your fingertips if you go looking. Which I suggest you do.

Most mountains have their recommended routes for ascent. Many have more than one. People often died finding them. Forging your own path could be an extremely costly endeavor. In business, it’s not so different.

Knowing what has and hasn’t worked for others and applying the principals to your unique set of circumstances and people is a wise move. Don’t discount something because it occurred in a completely different industry to your own or in a different time. Human behaviour, the most tempestuous of change elements, varies surprisingly little across time and space. Seriously good ideas can usually cross boundaries.

Consider your limits

You need to consider your resources. Your financial capability, time available, skilled employees and staff levels etc. While resource is worthy of a post in its own right, it’s worth touching upon here. Having a general sense of what is feasible to achieve and what isn’t will affect the type and volume of change you go for.

You should be asking questions. Are you a novice in the change game or an expert? Do you need help from an outside consultant or does your management have the skills needed? How big can you go? How fast? Have you managed to change successfully in the past? How much money do you have free in the budget?

If your resources were better suited to climbing Snowdon rather than K2, would you still book a flight to Pakistan?

And yet I’m not one for excessive pessimism or placing undue limitations on vision. Factoring resources is one thing, shutting down your dreams before you even get out of bed in the morning is another. Both human beings and organisations are achieving things all the time with regards to both innovation and scale.

The word ‘impossible’ bears serious skepticism. Just because you can’t change right now doesn’t mean you never can.

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