The Hidden Limit to Change

 

Many organisations struggle to react fast enough to the ever-increasing rate and unpredictable nature of strategic change. Sometimes that's because it's not clear what needs to be done.  However, even when that's obvious, leaders face huge difficulty in getting change to happen quickly enough.

Let's Take It Up Again...

Not long ago, I facilitated a strategy session with the management team of a new business within a leading financial services company.  They had big hopes for the business, but faced questions about which specific goals to pursue and how to go after them. The team felt it was critical to get these questions resolved, so had set aside time to focus on them - and had brought us in to help. 

As we always do, we were working hard to get tangible outputs, to get clear actions nailed down. But, to my great frustration and embarrassment, there were still some fundamental questions unresolved at the end.  I expected we would form a sub-group to get together to carry things forward, meeting again perhaps later the next day or - at worst - later in the week.  Instead, the collective decision was: "let's take it up again...next month".  

Organisational Clockspeed

Now, I'm not criticising that team: they had deeply engrained habits for operating on a monthly "clockspeed" basis. 

And, they aren't alone.  Through our work with multiple clients, we've identified clockspeed as an often-hidden constraint on the rate of change.  We've found that each organisation has a clockspeed, a heartbeat as it were, that determines how fast it can make decisions - and therefore how fast they can move.  For many businesses, the clockspeed for the top team is monthly at best.

In most large organisations this clockspeed was set years, if not decades, ago - when the pace of change was much slower.  The things that determine this clockspeed are usually invisible: at least to employees, for whom they are like water to a fish, just part of "the way things are".  As a result, leaders often don't address these factors, and therefore their change initiatives don't have the impact they desire.    

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