the cost of change

It’s a common belief that the ability to change, and to accommodate change, is a sign of life. And, among sentient, self-aware beings, it’s also reasonable and normal to invoke change for the purpose of stimulating the presence of those attributes of life that follow on from change.

Here are some strong words about that from an organizational theorist who contends that organizations that don’t experience change will perish. If change does not come from without, it had better come from within. And, it must be significant to have the desired life-sustaining affect.

Self-renewal of an organization can be seen as a process of dissolving an existing organizational order and creating a new one. Order in an organization refers to the structure and cognitive order which affects the pattern of the members of the organizational activities, namely, the pattern of resource deployment, organizational structure, systems, processes, and cultures. There can be no renewal without dissolution and creation of order. (Ikujiro Nonaka, 1988, “Creating Organizational Order Out of Chaos: Self-renewal in Japanese Firms“)

Contrary to the above, and as a rule in fiscally conservative organizations, change must come incrementally, in tested steps, like evolution. Leaders don’t make big decisions; they support change that bubbles up from below. This approach naturally inhibits the tendency of organizations to expand with untested ideas, which usually amount to increased on-going costs – the curse of large organizations, especially government.

The darn thing is that that there are times that abrupt, leadership-invoked change is the only way because incremental change is like sweeping main street. You simply have to dig it up and pave it instead of planning to clean up the on-going mess as a part of the change process.

The problem is that conservative business organizations are, by necessity, risk-averse, and are so accustomed to not providing change leadership that the very idea of making a significant abrupt change decision freezes their blood. They’re quite suspicious of suggestions about such things and believe the only permissible agents of abrupt change are necessarily external to the organization – whether customers, market forces or natural calamities.

The bottom line is that the fear of costly mistakes  associated with abrupt, enforced change is often misplaced. Incremental change can be just as costly because of the constant refactoring of ideas to win approval and the wasteful diversion of energy into winning support instead of actually rendering the change – not to mention the on-going costs of holding onto the original problems until solutions are fully evolved.



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