It’s time to rip up the rule book when it comes to organisational change

Pretty much every organisation in the world is, right now, feeling the sharp wind of change. That change may be political, economic, technological, generational or structural - indeed many organisations I talk to are experiencing an intermingled brew of all of these at once.

Managing these changes successfully is too important to be left to chance, or to ‘doing ones best’. If we are to survive and succeed in leaving our world in a better place for future generations. It strikes me that understanding the interacting and dynamic ‘eco – system’ of change that is uniquely experienced by each organisation is fundamental

I believe that we, as change leaders need to get four things right to do our jobs well;

1) We need to take time to get an in depth understanding of global challenges and trends and how these impacts our own, and other, organisations.

2) We need to develop a real understanding of how change works in the complex systems that constitute our organisations. It is rarely linear and almost never runs true to an inflexible and predictable plan.

3) We need to bring a discipline to our change leadership that focusses on the actions needed to create the right conditions for innovative change, and for subsequent implementation and follow through

4) We need to understand our own role in change and how we may influence and indeed be influenced by any change initiative, thus impacting on outcomes.

This latter point is critical. The disciplines of psychology and sociology have long been aware of phenomena such as experimenter and observer effects. These refer to the very real bearing that the presence, expectations and personalities of researchers may bring to the situation. Mahatma Gandhi showed absolute understanding of this when he advised;

‘You must be the change you wish to see in the world’

Without a thoughtful and professional understanding of this principle, we cannot hope to manage and lead change in ways that truly meet organisational needs in volatile times.

It is my belief that the current and future environments pose increased risks for those who continue only to employ traditional and reactive change management processes. However, I also see huge opportunities for those of us who can sense, seize and adapt effectively.  

Business schools have a significant role to play here.  Our role is to help the leaders of change to be systematic in understanding the challenges they face, to be self – aware, both as individuals and as organisations, to be strategic in their visions for the future and disciplined in their implementation. We can then be confident that we can support the organisations that we work with towards a responsible and sustainable future.

Professor Patricia Hind

Academic Director, Executive Masters in Organisational Change.

Ashridge Executive Education at Hult International Business School


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