Managing Change – Is Faster Necessarily Better?

Public and not-for-profit sector organizations are experiencing a period of rapid and sometimes profound change.   Most often driven by the consequences of the 2008 economic downturn, many organizations find themselves having to react to changes in their environments and in their day-to-day operations.   Since many organization have a bias for action, swiftly reacting to change, is often a valued characteristic of change management.  Indeed, slow change implementation is often seen as an example of indecisive leadership and can generate resistance.   The result leads to poor or ineffective change management.  So must organizational change be implemented swiftly?  Is this a universal truth about change management – the quicker the implementation, the better?

In short, No. There are circumstances where change is best implemented at a slower pace.  This is important to ensure that those impacted by change understand the reason and outcome of the envisioned change. In other words, the case for change must be clearly stated and the future vision clearly defined.

Let me explain:

Clearly State the Case for Change
Over the last six months, I have been working with an agricultural commodity group, the Canadian Potato Council to determine the feasibility of creating a national promotion and research organization.  The creation of such an agency is possible under a federal law and requires the explicit cooperation and support from producers and importers of potatoes. It goes without saying that such an agency will disturb the existing status quo and require all provincial potato boards to gain the support of growers and implement their own change plans. Without a clearly understood “case for change” – the reasons why a change is warranted – the probability is high that the creation of an agency for the promotion and research of potatoes would be met with a lot of resistance. A clear and compelling case for change needs to be communicated to all potato industry members. Completing the feasibility study required consultations with provincial potato grower organizations.  These consultations demonstrated that the decline in potato consumption, which is the principal reason for the creation of a promotion and research agency, was not well understood. A compelling case for change needs to be clearly established and thoroughly understood by all industry members before an agency has a chance to be considered. Going ahead with the creation of an Agency, without a clearly understood case for change, increases the probability of resistance and failure of this important project.

Paint a Realistic Picture of the Future
A compelling case for change is a first step in raising the awareness on the existing state, and should drive those concerned to adopt different behaviours.  In this example, to support the establishment of a research and promotion agency. Gaining support and consent for change requires the proponents of the change to clearly describe the desired end state or vision.  In the case in point; a description of the mission, objectives, governance and business model of the proposed Agency is in order.

Sequence is Important
In the course of defining this future desired state, many closely involved with the initiative realised that the “case for change” was not where it needed to be:  too many industry stakeholders did not yet fully understand the rationale driving the industry to the creation of an Agency.

A Case Where Slower IS Better
Confronted with this fact, the avid supporters of the Agency quickly slowed things down, and deemed it preferable that next efforts be spent to ensure that the rationale for the creation of the Agency was better understood by all members of the industry.  Definitely a case of slower being better to achieve the ultimate goal.

What’s your experience in driving change?

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