I often observe organisations seemingly delivering large scale business improvement successfully for the short term. But unfortunately (and unintentionally) without the realisation of longer term benefits. There are many contributory factors to such situations, however, a common theme across many that I have personally observed, is the CEO’s focus on driving the change through creation of ‘change projects’ rather than fostering a ‘change environment’.
- Is it because it feels “easier” to enforce the change by mandating it as a project and making it someone else’s responsibility?
- Is it because (understandably) a time-starved busy executive is unlikely to have the headspace and patience to craft an alternative strategy to embed the change?
- Is it because the nature of the specific desired change requires a project infrastructure to make it happen?
Perhaps these are some of the reasons why change projects become the default (and almost subconscious) approach to delivering improvement in an organisation. However, imagine if the CEO took charge of creating an environment where driving through change became an automatic side effect of the culture within?
I recently came across the work of a longevity expert Dan Buettner (Blue Zones) (and before this point didn’t know that such a profession existed!). He went to a small town in Minnesota with the purpose of changing the structural design of people’s lives to make healthy choices easier through changes to their environment, policy and social networks.
Whilst unrelated to the business world, the parallel aspect that resonated with me is this; Our C-suiters can make dramatic changes in their organisations just by altering the infrastructure. They can drive powerful, transformational effects by designing their environments for success.
Ultimately changing an organisation (whether it be the structure, a critical process or a new enterprise system) is about changing the current ways of working. Changing these current ways of working is very much linked to what individuals have become used to. Therefore, driving change in an organisation = changing the human behaviour of lots of individuals.
Kids were no longer allowed to eat in classrooms, standard sized plates were changed to smaller ones to encourage smaller food portions, restaurants added and advertised healthy eating options to their menus and ‘walking school buses’ were created.
Back to Dan Buettner. He didn’t tell people to exercise more or tell them what to eat. He simply changed their immediate environment; kids were no longer allowed to eat in classrooms, standard sized plates were changed to smaller ones to encourage smaller food portions, restaurants added and advertised healthy eating options to their menus and ‘walking school buses’ were created. It was a community-based solution, all about creating simple changes in the environment that led to big changes in health (10% reduction in body weight overall and 28% reduction in health care costs).
Changing behaviour is much easier if you take away the old way of doing things and set up helpful cues all around you. This brings us back to the environment and culture within which these individuals are working. If individuals have some kind of intrinsic motivation for the change and if they have the ability to do what needs to be done differently and if they are empowered accordingly and if there is a trigger or need to do it, then commitment comes from within. And the change? Well, that becomes a by-product of the environment that you have created.
A question for C-suiters: How is your organisational environment set up to help you drive change and where does it trip you up? You can design your organisation for automatic success.