Change is essential

If you don’t like change you had better get used to irrelevance! By 2006, of the approximately 60 highly successful companies listed in ‘In Search of Excellence’ (1982, Tom Peters & Robert H. Waterman, Jr.) and ‘Built to Last’ (1994, Jim Collins & Jerry Porras), only 33% remained as high performers (source: Beyond Performance, Scott Keller & Colin Price). Of the rest, 20% had ceased to exist and 47% were struggling.

The message from ‘Beyond Performance’ is that focusing on current performance such as return on capital is never enough. The primary driver for long term success is focusing on the health of the organisation, supported by performance. Sustained excellence needs an organisation that has a vision of a medium and long term future as well as performing effectively in the current environment. This requires investment in change to meet those futures with no guarantees the investment will pay off, in the short-term, or at all.

A ‘healthy’ organisation has a clear sense of direction, inspirational leadership and an open and supportive culture of shared beliefs. Within the organisation, the people are motivated and empowered to take responsibility and accept accountability for their work, within a coordinated and controlled environment that deals effectively with risks, issues and opportunities. The organisation is effectively governed and designed by its leaders to execute strategy effectively; it is outwardly focused on a wide range of stakeholders and most importantly, creative and innovative.

But innovation is not enough; the key enabler of sustained excellence is the ability to implement change! This requires good project capabilities to transform innovative ideas into the elements needed to enable the change such as new processes, products or procedures, supported by the ability to implement the change effectively within the organisation to realise the benefits. There is no magic formula for this; different styles of leadership can be equally effective. However, what is certain is that organisations that don’t create the ability to continually change and grow quickly fade into irrelevance as the world around them moves on.

This applies equally to private sector companies and government departments and agencies – there are very few government processes that can’t be privatised, commercialised or simply abandoned if the public service executive don’t rise to the challenge. Australia Post makes a profit for the Government; the Royal Mail in the UK carries far more mail over far shorter distances with a far greater population density and charges far more for its stamps but despite all of these advantages is only marginally profitable through the sale of property assets – guess which organisation’s future is in serious doubt!

All types of organisation need to embrace the ability to change or the cultural inertia I’ve been discussing in a series of posts over the last few weeks will have its inevitable consequences sooner or later.

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