Wednesday, 9 June 2010

3 of 5. Organisations do change

It must be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to plan, more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to manage than the creation of a new system. For the initiator has the enmity of all who would profit by the preservation of the old institution and merely lukewarm defenders in those who would gain by the new ones.
Machiavelli's, "The Prince" written in 1513

Organisational change is always difficult because behavioural patterns must be completely rearranged. This aspect will result in a tendency to resist change. The question is: how and when do organisations change? Humans can also change in time, but humans also have an 'inner resistance' to change. Like people, organisations cannot constantly change their jobs, divorce and remarry etc, because this would result in an absurd situation or a completely passive attitude. So organisations are actually great supporters of stability. Unfortunately the world around organisations is changing. These changes can sometimes happen slowly, but also very quickly and dramatically. In order to survive, organisations cannot afford to change incrementally because the environment is changing. A situation will then be created of a revolutionary nature. In a short time, organisations will have to change their old habits, activities, norms and values. These organisations are trying to find a new position where they can again reach stability. What has happened is actually a cultural revolution.

Many years ago, I was introduced to the idea of the Sigmoid Curve and forgot its power until I was re-introduced to it by my good friend Bill McAneny. I have since found it very useful in managing various programmes and projects that I have been involved in. The Sigmoid Curve is a mathematical concept which has been widely used to model the natural life cycle of many things, from biological organisms, businesses and companies, marriages and careers. Simplistically it describes the change patterns within many activities that we get involved in, in business and in life. Many businesses, careers and other ventures fail in this first phase because it is so hard to keep going with no tangible reward. We tend to be impatient and if we don’t get some immediate reward for our efforts, we can move on to something else. But the only way to success is to push through this initial phase, to keep going and to know that this persistence will eventually and inevitably move on to phase two of the Sigmoid Curve.

The second section is a sharply rising line in the elongated S shape. During this phase, business and careers move ahead quickly. Revenues increase, relationships mature, promotions occur easily, and organisations become much larger. This is where the crop which was sown is growing and coming to maturity, and every day brings perceptible growth and maturation.

The third phase of the curve is a decline, as the S shape starts to fall. The harvest has grown to maturity and starts to die. Morale and energy dip, revenues decline, the empire starts to crumble. On a personal level, your marriage might start to become jaded or you might wonder if you have chosen the right career or question how you are spending your time.

Successful individuals and organisations are self-reflective and constantly monitor their own position on the Sigmoid Curve. However, to be truly successful is to go even further – it is to jump off the current curve when it is nearing its peak and start on the bottom of another curve. This can be very hard to do, because just as you are reaping the rewards of your work and application, you find yourself at the bottom of another learning curve. This entails more pain, since growth always involves pain to some degree. It doesn’t appear to make sense to change just as you are doing so well, reaping the rewards of your efforts. There is even, perhaps, a sense of loss – why throw away something which is mature and bringing a reward for something untested and new?

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