I have to start by saying that I am not opposed to either change or innovation. They are important to keep an organization fresh and vital. Since my youth I have been inspired by Robert F. Kennedy and the quote attributed to him by his brother Ted at Bobby’s funeral: “Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not.”
These days we are constantly reminded that change is a good thing. This is often linked to the idea that innovation is also a good thing. (Although “innovative” has become a buzz word that is almost meaningless.)
I would argue that while change and innovation can be very good, without some guidance they can be just as fatal to an organization as a failure to change or innovate can be.
The problems I see in many organizations are a desire to change just for the sake of change and the lack of a support structure for change.
Change can result in chaos or even be fatal when:
– The workforce is not prepared
– The change is counter to the organization’s values and mission
– The customers are not involved
See New Coke, JCPenney, and others.
Chaos often occurs as a result of a workforce who are not trained beyond the basic functions of their job. Most organizations decide they will train the workforce how to do their job, and do it very well. But they fail to formally share the “why” – the values and mission that make the organization what it is in the first place. They assume it will occur via osmosis.
As a result, the workforce does not understand the organization and will innovate and change in a way that is counter to why the organization exists. This creates confusion among the other members of the workforce (“Can we do that?”) and the customers (“Why are they doing that?” Or, “What are they doing now?”)
This is not limited to our entry-level workforce. Failure to train the C-level employee in the “why” of the organization can be even worse. Again, Coke and JCP are good examples.
When the workforce at all levels are not fully immersed in the organization’s “why and how” they react to how they feel or think in the moment and quite often not in the best interests of the organization or its customers.
I have observed organizations with loyal customer bases who adopt change without talking to these customers. Top managers develop an ego that tells them they are smarter than the customer or the worker. But change that may seem like a good idea in the office may alienate those who made the organization what they are.
Customers became loyal to us for a reason. We must consider them so we do not lose them. That does not mean that change within the values and mission cannot occur to gain new customers or keep what we have from leaving, but change that causes us to lose the ones we have can be fatal. They must be considered.
Be sure to prepare your workforce – beginning with pre-employment and onboarding – to understand why and how you do what you do so they know the best directions and avenues for innovation and change. Integrate vision, mission, and values in every training opportunity.
Be sure to know and ask your loyal customers. Involve them in change management so they become a part of any change and innovation.
Support change so that it is not conducted in the shadows. Foster a culture where change and innovation that fits the organization (it will if you have prepared the workforce and the customer) is supported with resources and appreciated by leaders.
Improvisation is not innovation. Inconsistency is not change.