By Dr Ahmad Badr
For all the hype of innovation, many organizations need to avoid the pitfalls of change for change's sake
When it comes to organisations and the world of business, you will find few people who talk negatively about the concept of change. You might be a parachuted-in CEO, out to shake things up and impress at a struggling business, or an ambitious manager with an eye on greater opportunities. You could be a new recruit, desperate to make your mark, or an old-hand who has formulated a way to make work simpler and more cost-effective. Wherever you look within an organisation, you are unlikely to find many who will actively talk down the merits of making a change. Change is excitement. Change is innovation. Change is new.
This is particularly true in the high-tech business world we now find ourselves in - a world where ideas of “disruptors”, hyper-focused innovators, and fast-moving market news fill the business pages each day. With so much change evidently going on, and so much that seems to produce spectacular results, it’s really no wonder we’re all a little enamored of the business of change. It really does seem to promise a great deal.
It is interesting to note, then, that for all this talk of innovation and new directions, a fundamental part of all change management thinking revolves around the idea that most organisational changes will be resisted by many. A great deal of time and energy will be put into properly preparing a business to effectively accept and enact a change initiative - principally through breaking down many of the tried-and-true inhibitors to change. Proactive communication needs to be used to overcome the sense of loss of control or lack of a voice in the matter. Timelines and milestones must be accurately established to help diffident staff see the benefits of the new way of doing things. Categorical direction and diplomacy might need to be deployed for those who actively disagree with the moves being made.
Done right, such approaches can have a significant impact on the ultimate success of a new initiative - employees will be better prepared to enact a new strategy, systems will be in place to fully meet the demand for a new product or service, for example. Where this isn’t the case, organisations will likely look to their change management process and worry over where the weakness in the chain was. Did they prepare middle managers well enough? Were their internal communication efforts ineffective?
What they might question rather less is whether the change itself was well advised. In all the excitement to race out a new innovation or enter a new market, it is important to look at whether anyone ever stopped to ask some more basic questions of the change - Was it necessary? Were the likely rewards worth the risk? Were consumers ready for the new offering?
Of course, such questioning should really come far earlier in the process. Every change initiative should, at heart, balance the possible excitement and rewards of a new direction with a hard, cold investigation of its possible pitfalls. Nobody should want to stifle creativity and innovation in business, but all companies must also recognise that change for change’s sake is a pointless and potentially unhappy pursuit.
Many professionals, for example, may be able to think of a time in their career when organisational change appeared to happen more as an arbitrary action than as something that substantively altered working practices or productivity. Many leaders may recognise moments where an alteration in strategic course was taken as much simply to affect any change than to reset direction for the better.
Ultimately, change of one form or another is very often an excellent thing for business. However, it must always be pursued while also recognising a business’ established and proven advantages, and while critically questioning whether the change will ultimately contribute to a business’ longevity.
Dr Ahmad Badr, Chief Executive Officer and a founding member of Abu Dhabi University Knowledge Group, with responsibility for overall strategic direction and operation of the Group’s activities.