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Knowing When Enough is Enough

In an increasingly unstable world, where corporations and individuals are being subjected to manifest and constant change it's frustrating to realise that there are still very few people who understand enough about the management of change to enable change programmes to have the best chance of succeeding. Often, even the simplest concepts are ignored. Given that change generally occurs over a period of time, it's not unreasonable to believe that some sort of lifecycle exists which can help us to manage the change. Even when change is spontaneous (such as when a person leaves an organisation), the effects still take time to manifest themselves across the organisational environment, particularly in the way that other people adjust and adapt. Some commentators actually resist the notion of organisational change altogether by talking about transitions by which we move from our current state to a desired state over a period of time. So our simple change or transition lifecycle consists of three parts; a beginning, a middle and an end. In reality, each cycle probably feeds into further cycles in a rolling wave of changes, but we'll come back to that in a moment. Despite the simplicity of the lifecycle, many organisations ignore both the beginning and the end, and focus all their attention on the middle. There's an element of human nature at work here because the middle is the part of the cycle where things are seen to happen, especially by senior management. In this respect, a transition project is just the same as any other project. Impatient sponsors or customers want to see action and results. Time spent doing up-front planning appears to have less value than time spent doing. And as for time spent reviewing at the end - well, clearly that's of no value at all since the project has delivered, so there's no point in paying for it. It's a bit like trying to get children to wrap up presents before Christmas and write thank you letters afterwards - generally they're not interested because there's no obvious reward for doing so. One of the key tasks that you need to perform during the beginning of your change cycle is to create the criteria to enable you to understand when the change is completed, which includes understanding when it's appropriate to begin the next change cycle. One of the main reasons that change initiatives fail is that new change cycles take place before the real success or failure of the preceding cycle is fully realised. I've come across several organisations that have embarked on rolling wave change initiatives where the current wave cancels out the achievements of previous ones - the old one step forward, three steps back scenario. Not only is this a waste of time, effort and money, but it leads to confusion across the organisation because change is never allowed to become embedded before it is swept out with the next tide. Confusion brought about through change initiatives will ultimately reduce the chance of success of future changes. The workforce will lose faith and trust in management that appear to be generating change for its own sake. During the start-up phase of your transition you simply must set SMART objectives against which the change can be monitored during the transition. These don't have to be particularly complicated, but they must be designed so that you know when to stop. Once you've reached that end point, as part of the review process, there needs to be some mechanism to ring fence those changes so that subsequent change doesn't eradicate all the good work you've put in. Unless of course, the change has been unsuccessful and you need to fix it. But of course, that wouldn't happen to you, because you will have spent adequate time at the start to make sure that you minimise your risk of failing! Next time, we'll look at the start phase of the change cycle in more detail.
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