Supposedly, if you drop a frog in hot water, it will jump out. If you put a frog in cold water and gradually heat it, the frog will die, unaware that it could have escaped danger. Funny thing…this gets repeated as a metaphor for both avoiding danger and sneaking change into organizations. (Never mind that frogs don’t actually stay in the gradually hotter water according to a quick Google search)
Change is a hot topic
Few things are harder to sustain than change. It is the reason diets fail, the gym is empty by February and business users fall back to old habits. And gradual change is just so…so…gradual. Gradual change doesn’t excite people, including those who set budgets and priorities. Few have ever sold an idea as, “We’re going to make incremental changes over a long period of time that will make us more better at what we do.” Slow change is unsexy and hard.
You know what? All change is hard That’s why so few are successful at it. If it was easy, we wouldn’t have a remarkable number of books about personal and professional change and management techniques for change. Just like people and their personal commitments to change, organizations are really, really, really poor at changing.
They need help and it often needs to come from outside. Consultants are typically the way to power through the quicksand of functional silos and politics. But they’re typically shopping the same ideas everywhere…not very competitive.
More likely, a company is formed around a good idea that plays out as success, growth, bureaucracy and then steady decline. Change to a new way of doing business is rare enough that the few who do it are legendary..GE, Apple, 3M, Nokia. History is cluttered with those who couldn’t change, with Kodak as the poster child.
Somebody’s gotta do it
As tough as it is, we can’t ignore the remarkable value of organic, constant, incremental change. Big initiatives get big budgets and attention, but are also a big risk and ‘all or nothing’ in outcome. Incremental change that is sponsored from within is likely more contextual, cheaper, involves more stakeholders and isn’t forced on a cynical organization.
This blog is a great example of incremental change. If you’ve been here from the beginning, you’ve watched it start with a strong BPM focus, gradually branch to broader topics and add a series of writers to get where it is today. All along, the changes were small, with the exception of a template change a couple of months back. The result of disciplined writing, gradual change/improvement has been a significant rise in subscriptions and readership. This steady approach is the formula that works but isn’t easy to sustain.
Change is possible as the examples prove. It takes visionary leadership, patient management, and an engaged workforce. It takes a platform for capturing the state of today and a managed, communicated path to the future. More than anything, it takes commitment and discipline to do the gradual things that add up in the long run to significant change.