“Today’s successful business leaders will be those who are most flexible of mind. An ability to embrace new ideas, routinely challenge old ones, and live with paradox will be the effective leader’s premier trait. . . Leaders will have to guide the ship while simultaneously putting everything up for grabs, which is itself a fundamental paradox.” — Tom Peters, Thriving on Chaos: Handbook for a Management Revolution
Beware of formal organization improvement or “change management” (an oxymoron) plans. Like strategic plans, organization improvement or change management plans can reduce an organization’s effectiveness. They can lead to rigidity, bureaucracy, and resistance to change.
This sounds like an argument against planning. It’s not. We have found that constant and ongoing personal, team, and organization improvement planning is vital. But too many “change management” and improvement plans are built on the same faulty premise as strategic planning — that there is a right path, which can be determined in advance and then implemented. We often hear managers declare that they have the right strategic or improvement plan, but the reason things aren’t going according to plan is because of “execution problems.” This is a deadly assumption.
While there are many reasons for execution problems, one of the key problems is a top-down improvement plan or “change management” program. Because of their need for order and control, many rigid managers try to use “change management” or improvement planning to regulate and direct the random and chaotic events swirling around them. They aren’t comfortable with letting their improvement plan and path to higher performance unfold and evolve toward their vision, values, purpose, goals and priorities. In other words, they think they can start with the answers. They’re not comfortable with learning.
Other organizations and consultants may have been down a similar road to the one we’re on. We have much to learn from their experiences. But we can’t follow their path. If we have never been here before, we don’t really know what the best paths and approaches are. Our improvement path evolves as we get to each fork in the road and get those people closest to the action to help make the most appropriate choices.
We need an unwavering strategic focus on where we’re going. We need to set priorities, allocate resources, and put implementation schedules in place. But exactly how we get there can only be roughly sketched. Details get filled in as we go. Most of the problems and opportunities can’t be anticipated and planned for in advance. We have to take advantage of the unforeseeable opportunities that will quietly present themselves as our journey unfolds. This is the paradox of strategic opportunism. It is the path of learning and constant improvement.