by Beth Banks Cohn, Columnist & Featured Contributor
[su_dropcap style=”flat”]T[/su_dropcap]HIRTY YEARS AGO, I was living in Tel Aviv, Israel, and one of the few radio stations which broadcast in English had a wonderful tagline, from the John Lennon song: “All we are saying is give peace a chance.” The implication, of course, is that peace takes time to take root.
So does change.
Lately I’ve seen a disturbing trend in business, no doubt influenced by the ultra-fast start-up culture: Changes are made to improve the organization, but before the changes can take root and start to bear fruit, someone declares them ‘unsuccessful’ and begins the process of implementing new changes.
Businesses will tell you that they don’t have time to wait around and “give change a chance”. They need to see a demonstrable ROI NOW: They need to satisfy shareholders, or they need cash to invest in the business or acquire another one; they’re often afraid that if they aren’t Doing Something Big and Different right this minute, the competition will sneak up behind them and suddenly they’ll be left behind, or a negative media profile will send their share prices plummeting, or someone will suggest that senior leadership isn’t innovative enough. Or something.
But when organizations continually make investments in change that they never see through, they become doomed to a downward spiral ever-more desperate short-term measures that simply don’t work – and definitely don’t deliver long-term success.
I’m not suggesting that all change needs to happen on glacial timelines. Change can often be implemented quickly and successfully if the right plan is in place to get it done. But it’s important to give change initiatives the right amount of time to succeed: The right amount of time for implementation, the right amount of time for transition, and the right amount of time to assess whether the change efforts have in fact been successful. Companies that understand the difference between short-, medium- and long-term goals, and expect results on corresponding timelines, will do better.
Some business changes do result in immediate benefits: A quick process redesign, a shift to a new supplier, even a small team reorganization are changes that can deliver measurable results in 3 months or less.
However, when the scale of change is larger, and involves exponentially more people – an enterprise-wide technology change, a fundamental refocus of the core competencies of the business – the timeframe becomes correspondingly longer as well. The more people involved, the more time is required: When a technology change requires that everyone from the senior VP to the division manager to the entry-level employee now has to make changes in their day-to-day activities, change simply takes longer to map, implement and manage.
The scope and timeframes of metrics will also depend on the change initiative. Changing the way a sales force sells a certain product line has a simple, and relatively short-term, measure of success: Have sales increased?
But let’s say the entire sales process has also been transformed, including new technology and a redesigned supply chain management system. Now the sales force has to sell the products differently, manage the process differently, and educate clients about how the new supply chain management system will change the way the products are ordered, delivered and invoiced.
In this case, simply measuring ‘sales increases’ may not be the most effective metric, at least in the short term. It may be more appropriate to measure client adoption, client feedback, increases in reorders or yearly client value – all of which tend to be longer-term measures of success.
How can organizations do a better job of giving “change a chance”? Well, I tend to think about change the way Warren Buffett thinks about investing: “Always invest [in change] for the long term.”