The Pace of Change, Part 2: The Spotlight Effect

The Pace of Change is an article series that explores the quickening pace of change, how organizations are responding, and why the only way to keep up is by fundamentally shifting our view on change.

by Holly Pendleton, Director, Organizational Change Management at Envision Business Consulting

As explored in The Pace of Change, Part 1: Warp Speed Ahead, the pace of change is increasing exponentially. Futurist Ray Kurzweil stated that in this century, we wouldn’t experience 100 years of progress, but rather 20,000 years of progress. As the pace of change quickens, the gap between “where we are” and “where we need to be” continues to widen. Organizational leaders are responding, recognizing the importance of intentional change and taking action to mitigate cost of failure, but is it enough? Let’s take a look at some of today’s practices.

How We Handle Change: The Spotlight Effect

Think about the most recent major change at your organization. Was it a response to a new tech-based competitor? A merger or acquisition? A new go-to-market strategy requiring organizational realignment? Leaders who are attentive to the organizational impacts of change put a spotlight on the change at hand, dedicating resources to ensure business needs are met, ROI is delivered, and lost productivity is minimized, all while propelling the organization forward.

The challenge comes when it’s time to turn attention to the next change that has likely already started. The spotlight shifts to the next priority, leaving the previous effort a distant memory. All the resources necessary to assuring the change sticks get shifted away.

The biggest problem with the spotlight approach is that it doesn’t give organizations time to absorb and reflect upon change. A 2013 study by Willis Towers Watson showed that while 55% of change projects meet initial objectives, only 25% sustain gains. Lost ROI is not the only cost. Projects exhaust teams, and projects that don’t deliver as promised cause employees and customers to lose trust. Back-to-back change projects with little follow-through quickly create churn-and burn, resulting in both employees and customers looking for greener pastures.

“While 55% of change projects meet initial objectives, only 25% sustain gains.”

Think Before You Act

Knowing that the Spotlight Effect has a cost, the first thing leaders need to do is make sure they aren’t changing for the sake of change. Prudent leaders explore the following questions before jumping into a next change initiative:

  • Where shouldn’t we change? Leaders should have honest conversations about where change is not necessary and could cause negative disruption. For these conversations, it’s important that leadership understands the organizational culture and history.
  • Is this change meaningful? Analyze where and how this change will add value. As one of our executive roundtable participants put it: “Is this meaningful change or are we just re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic?”
  • Are my employees change saturated? People can only absorb so much change in a given time period. If your employees’ attention is divided across too many priorities, nothing gets done fully or as well as it should.

Change as a Discipline

As leaders learn how to address and prioritize change, they are investing in expertise to help manage the change too. The discipline of managing change is maturing, and the field of Change Management has now fully emerged. Coursework for managing change is not only part of respected business and leadership degree programs, but now it is possible to get a degree with change specialization. An international professional association (ACMP) now offers a certification program, opportunities to participate in local chapters, and international conferences. It is also possible to purchase entire change methodologies and change toolkits to leverage inside organizations.

Organizations typically apply recognized methodology and best practices to manage change with one or a blend of the following approaches:

Organizations manage change using three main approaches: 1) Hiring external experts on a project-by-project basis, who bring their own change methodology and toolkit. 2) Using external experts to help define a change approach and mentor internal resources to build change competency, partnering to buy or build a change methodology and toolkit. 3) Owning a centralized internal change management office, often supplemented by external resources, using the organization's own internal change methodology and change toolkit.

As organizations traverse through these change models, they get better at managing change. The language and discipline take root, and people become more attentive to the impacts of change and how to manage it. These methodologies and approaches are best practices proven to make a difference, and best-in-class organizations continue to mature in their change management capability. Yet, these are still relatively centralized models with a person assigned as the change lead on a project. The question we are now faced with is this:

In light of the accelerating pace of change, is this change management discipline enough?

Stay tuned for the next article in this series, where we’ll explore what must be done differently for organizations to thrive in their effort to keep up with the accelerating pace of change.

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Insights from our ongoing executive roundtable in Phoenix, AZ contributed to this article series. At these complimentary roundtables held across the US, business leaders discuss challenges and trends, strategies to get ahead, and how to turn strategy into action.

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