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Mon 4 Feb 2008 04:00 AM

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Managing change in an emerging market

The fast rate of business growth in the region requires companies to enter into a new stage of organisation.

As the explosive growth takes place within the companies in the Gulf a growing concern is the need for change management. It seems that overnight companies are metamorphosing and entering into new industries and markets. The rate of growth and pace of business in the region is astonishing.

It will require them to enter into a new stage of organisational life is they are going to be sustainable.

Is there any difference to change management when working in an emerging market?

The answer is: Yes, there is a significant difference. It is contained in the words rate and pace. The rate of growth most times exceeds that which companies in mature markets experience. In mature markets a high rate of growth is in the upper single digits. In emerging markets it is common to see growth rates in the double digits. In fact many of these companies are doubling in size on a bi-annual or even annual basis.

And for pace, meaning the number of change initiatives a company undertakes, there is no comparison. At best mature companies would undertake a change initiative every 18 to 24 months and more likely not more than one initiative in a 36 month period. But in emerging markets, the rate of growth can create the need to engage in two or more initiatives annually.

There are excellent tools on the market to help organizations manage the change process. As we look across the GCC we see these methods being advertised aggressively and companies adopting the tools with great hopes of help. But there is a question that we must ask: Are these companies really going through change or are they evolving?

Let me explain what I mean by that question. I think we would agree that change and evolution are different processes. Even though they are similar, they are quite unique from one another.

Let's start with a definition of change - it is to make the form, nature, or future of something different from what it is or would become if it were left alone. For change to happen it requires an existing state or condition that it will become different from. That is the fundamental element of change. You change from something to become something different. In organizational life it can be argued that it requires twelve months for something to be settled enough for change to take place.

On the other hand evolution is an on-going process. It is the process of development and growth where something passes to a different stage or stages. It usually results in improvement or a better form. However, it does not require that there ever is a settled condition (like change does) in order to develop and grow. Doesn't this concept sound more relevant to companies in the GCC?

To compare this to the business world, it is easy to see that in mature markets most companies usually benefit from a settled condition or state whereas in the emerging markets with the rate of growth and pace of business as it is there is rarely a settled condition. So we can conclude that for emerging markets many of the companies are not changing, rather they are evolving.

Therefore, in the emerging markets we should readdress what is referred to as "change management" and call it "evolution management". And since these are different processes, they need to be managed in a different fashion. When approaching "change" initiatives, we need to look for an innovative approach to manage the evolutionary process and not rely on the popular change management solutions.

Dr Tommy Weir is the founder of US-based Tommy Weir Consulting and is now head of learning and development at UAE property developer, Nakheel. Dr Weir specialises in Middle Eastern leadership development.

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