Consider Your Company a Chameleon
Don't Drive Change for Change's Sake
Rough chameleon by Charles J. Sharp
Just recently I had a few chats with employees of Munich and Berlin's newly born and also already grown up startups. One topic came up, which appears regularly and I would like to discuss it here: changes in culture, technology, management, vision, values and the like. Of course, there is nothing wrong with that, as long as the change does not happen for the sake of change, without plan, strategy and target.
Such changes often result in short-term successes and outcomes, if at all. Such short-term successes are like adrenaline boosts, which then quickly fade; or like a party night, without thinking about the hangover or your health. Don't get me wrong, these adrenalin boosts are very important for quick wins and to inspire employees with enthusiasm while pursuing long-term goals. But relying on it, and especially not being aware of its effects, can lead to failure as well as counterproductive impacts.
Chameleons as Mascots of Change
Changes are essential for the organisational evolution and growth, as well as inevitable, simply because human dynamics are constantly shifting, and therefore require a corresponding change on the company side. Nevertheless, not every change is good, and we are slowly moving on to the actual topic. Constant and too frequent change processes can lead to confusion and rejection, especially if numerous changes are still in progress, or no clear purpose can be identified. In particular, changes targeting vision and strategy should not happen too often due to the long-term impact.
But there is still a lot more that can be done wrong regarding change processes targeting initially mentioned topics. These include, on the one hand, ignoring existing dynamics and potential effects on engagement. On the other hand, changes not reflecting the values, aiming solely at profit, or benefiting the management and not the company as a whole, might be destructive. Furthermore, as already mentioned at the beginning, changes without any benefit or purpose; why take the pain for no reason?
In my opinion, initiating change without a long-term objective is not part of a good management style. Employees feel like being in a hamster wheel: constantly moving, not making any progress and being exhausted after a while. To be more concrete, here are some real-world examples.
It hardly ever makes sense to worry about the interior when the entire building should be renovated.
Company A has not defined a clear vision, the employees are not engaged and the people team wants to change this in agreement with the management. In order to increase culture and engagement, various programs are initiated, resulting in benefits such as company events or joint breakfast. The employees are happy about this for a few hours, afterwards, the whole thing is forgotten and one returns to the usual routine. It may seem purposeless without actually focusing on what employees want/need and what is essential for long-term engagement.
Company B is growing rapidly and hiring dozens of people each month. The organisational structure does not scale properly, resulting in huge teams of 15–20 people. As expected, performance and the resulting quality are declining fast. The management notices the consequences and considers agile methods to be the solution, without researching the root cause. Here the employees are not even slightly happy and have to deal with additional problems, which ends in frustration and dismissals.
Company C might be your company because what happens here is a textbook example. There are people put into a new role — by either being hired or promoted — which see themselves as a sort of change agent. They assume that they are expected to make changes. Either to mark the territory, to prove that one can accomplish changes, or to test one's influence. Here, the focus is not on the people, but to push the change for the sake of change. I'm entirely sure you have several of those scenarios in your mind. Often these are small but completely unnecessary.
In all cases, the roadmap and the medium/long-term objectives are lacking, and action is taken without reflection just for the sake of change. The results are self-evident. Now you're probably wondering what the heck chameleons have in common with the whole story, but it's actually quite simple: they change colour as a means of protection and communication. However, it's not so important for which reason, but that it has a specific purpos; not just because it's fun. So, consider your company a chameleon and keep an eye on the purpose.
Besides the obvious adjustments, there are two approaches that can help with change processes. First, involving employees by listening to them and understanding their needs. Employees are the company's most important asset, and they are usually the first ones who notice the consequences of change, so involve them. Second, measure the direct and additionally sustainable effects, like those of employee engagement and experience1. Without this, it is impossible to determine success or failure.
Get to the Point
Admittedly, I went beyond the scope of the title and raised several other topics, but behind these a single message has to be shared. Think carefully about change processes: identify the root cause of the problem to be solved and the needs of the employees; think about the long-term impact on the company; define clear, measurable goals; and prioritise the individual change initiatives. Don't change just because you are in the mood or because the status quo doesn't fit.
- Interesting to note: Engagement is top-down and more like an adrenalin boost that results rarely in positive business impact or loyalty. Employee experience is bottom-up and the long-term orientation of a company, which can have a beneficial effect on loyalty, performance and the like. People in experiential companies are passionate about their job & pursuing the vision.↩