‘Changes’ is a song by David Bowie, originally released on the album Hunky Dory in December 1971 and as a single on 7 January 1972, the day before Bowie’s 25th birthday. Despite missing the Billboard top 40 the song was ranked at number 127 on Rolling Stone magazine’s 2004 list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
The lyrics are often seen as Bowie’s take on the frequent changes of the world and the frequent need to reinvent himself throughout the 1970s and beyond. This need for reinvention is a critical element for organizations trying to stay relevant and sustainable today. But reinvention means change and change can be tough.
Somewhat ironically, in order to be good at managing change as an organization, we have to have or create a culture that embraces change and views it as a constant.
However, organizational culture can be a challenging subject to understand, let alone influence. Nonetheless the principles behind it are simple:
• Culture evolves over time and takes time to shift in a new direction.
• The longer an organization has been in existence the more mature the culture will be, with more layers of cultural reinforcement which will need to be unraveled.
• Organizational size has a bearing on cultural complexity and any cultural change program will need to take account of, and plan for, the myriad of sub-cultures which exist.
• Organizational integrations bring even greater challenges requiring the consideration of various cultural heritages.
Effecting successful cultural change as the first step is possible, but it requires a considerable investment of time, resources and energy. Business leaders need to be aware of the need for consistency and tenacity to bring about the required shift and their efforts must be structured and planned. Cultural change is most likely to succeed if undertaken systematically and in bite sized chunks. Prioritizing change management capability is often the best place to start.
Delivering the ability to effectively manage change creates the ability to both deliver a truly competitive advantage and an improved ability to drive change throughout the organization – and therefore to change the culture.
Does the management of change present a competitive advantage? We think so because change is a constant and in fact the frequency, or pace, of business change is becoming greater. Just a simple review of technology over the past ten years underlines the rapid pace of change.
Those companies that are unable to keep pace with change soon start to complain of ‘change fatigue’ which, in turn, causes a drag on resources and an impairment of performance. Those that invest time in making the management of change a core competence will steal a march on those that do not manage change well.
Delivering behaviours that impact the culture is a winning strategy. Delivering change management as a core competence and critical leadership trait takes the organization to a place where agility and an execution focus in the maelstrom of the changing environment delivers practical returns.
As Bowie wrote “Turn and face the strange” …