Making Change Happen: The Inevitable Battle Between Required Change and Maintenance of the Status Quo

Countless books, business press articles, seminars, conferences and the like have been devoted to the topic of change management. Much of the coverage of this extremely important topic tends to ignore the incredible insights and actionable advice of Peter F. Drucker and Harvard's Ted Levitt.

In this and subsequent articles, we will detail what these two masters have provided in terms of insight, practical solutions and frameworks for analysis.

When tomorrow's job involves attempts to create entirely new businesses, products, markets, processes or operating methods of more than trivial dimensions, there develops an inevitable battle between change makers and preservers of the status quo.

The struggles are abrasive. Attempting to superimpose the new and different on an organization geared to carrying out today's tasks is almost always met with fierce resistance.

Organizational inertia always pushes for continuing what the organization is already doing.

According to Peter F. Drucker, "Organizations are always in danger of being overwhelmed by yesterday's tasks and have been rendered sterile by them." Put bluntly, "rocking the boat" will create powerful waves that prevent change.

Unfortunately, even when change is mission-critical and important to the survival of the enterprise, the change agent will, in all probability, pay a heavy personal price.

The Root Cause of Resistance to Change

Harvard 's Ted Levitt said: "Routinization of anything...deadens alertness, attentiveness, imagination, energy and reaction time. Whenever routine reigns, special effort is needed to sustain the attention and responsiveness, to energize the system and its functionaries, to freshen the mind and get people moving."

Operating efficiency that require rules, procedures and processes to get today's job done will fiercely resist change. A true leader, not a custodial manager, realizes that periodic euthanasia of the organization's accustomed routines is a necessity.

Many executives battle the symptoms of organizational inertia without realizing an organization that exists to get today's job done cannot also do tomorrow's job. Once the cause is understood, the methods for introducing needed changes become apparent.

Putting Things Into Perspective

Every organization must be structured to get today's job done. The achievement of specific results is not accidental. They come from purposeful direction, objectives and metrics.

Allegiance to the daily task, Drucker and Levitt reminded us, remains the predominant and inevitable focus of the typical organization. This creates a constraining environment that does not allow us to do new, and therefore disruptive, things.

Questioning the existing objectives is never easy. It takes enormous energy and a discipline to force organizational self examination. It takes courage and conviction. It takes purposeful action.

But it also takes hierarchal direction. Many senior executives tend to believe operating executives, who have a demonstrated capacity for continuous improvement, have the knowledge and experience to create radical change when required.

"The governing device of a strategy for the ongoing business can be said to be 'better and more,'" Drucker said. "For the innovative strategy, the device has to be'new and different.'"

So How is Change Really Accomplished?

One accepted procedure is to attempt to put "newness" into a separate business unit. Tomorrow's job needs a new structural entity, that is, an autonomous organization staffed with the expertise required to make the future happen.

This is probably the single-most important message we can deliver. Innovation, if possible, must be organized into a separate activity. Years of experience indicates that the new activity should be physically separated from the ongoing business.

The organization will attempt to drive out entrepreneurship. Anyone with real experience can testify to this. It takes courage and a high-level champion to "ride shotgun" against the inevitable attempts to squash a new venture.

Other Ways to Accomplish Change

There are many types of changesimportant changesthat must be initiated within the existing organization. This requires reorganization.

Typically, when a product, service or process no longer produces results and should be abandoned or changed radically, management "reorganizes."

To be sure, reorganization is often needed. However, reorganization, Drucker observed, comes after the "what" and the "how" have been detailed in a strategic plan.

After the realities of the situation have been carefully diagnosed, the strategies formulated and the tactical work plan thoughtfully and thoroughly developed.

Many organizations confuse "motion" with "activity." According to Drucker, many reorganizations are simply motion without systematic, purposeful activity. By itself, reorganization is not a substitute for action.

Drucker also advocated the use of "pilot projects" to initiate change so the balance between continuity and change could be maintained.

This could be done in a variety of ways. For example, having one operating plant, among many, reengineer its operational methodology and prove to the other plants, via the use of measurement, the gains achieved. A much quoted New Yorker cartoon said, "What we need, gentlemen, is a completely brand-new idea that has been thoroughly tested."

Everything improved or new, Drucker reminded us, first needs to be tested on a small scale. It needs to be piloted.