Change can’t be managed. Change can be ignored, resisted, responded to, capitalized on, and created. But it can’t be managed and made to march to some orderly step-by-step process. However, whether change is a threat or an opportunity depends on how prepared we are. Whether we become change victims or victors depends on our readiness for change.
One of the inspiring quotations I’ve used for my ongoing personal improvement quest came from Abraham Lincoln (his decades long string of failures in business and politics before becoming one of America’s great presidents is inspiring in itself). He once said, “I will prepare myself and my time must come.” That’s how change is managed.
We can’t crash cram in a few days or weeks for a critical meeting or presentation that our key program, project, or even career depends upon. We can’t quickly win back customers who’ve quietly slipped away because of neglect and poor service. We can’t suddenly turn our organization into an innovative powerhouse in six months because the market shifted. We can’t radically and quickly reengineer years of sloppy habits and convoluted processes when revolutionary new technology appears.
When cost pressures build, we can’t dramatically flatten our organizations and suddenly empower everyone who’s had years of traditional command and control conditioning. These are long-term culture, system, habit, and skill changes. They need to be improved before they’re needed. In the words of an ancient Chinese proverb, “dig a well before you are thirsty.”
Problems that our team, our organization, or we may be having with change aren’t going to be improved by some “change management” theory. To effectively deal with change we don’t focus on change as some kind of manageable force. We need to deal with change by improving ourselves. Then our time must come. Successful change and continual improvement go hand in hand.
In his book, The Age of Unreason, London Business School professor and consultant, Charles Handy writes: “If changing is, as I have argued, only another word for learning, the theories of learning will also be the theories of changing. Those who are always learning are those who can ride the waves of change and who see a changing world as full of opportunities rather than of damage. They are the ones most likely to be the survivors in a time of discontinuity. They are also the enthusiasts and the architects of new ways and forms and ideas. If you want to change, try learning one might say, or more precisely, if you want to be in control of your change, take learning more seriously.”
Resistance to today’s change comes from failing to make yesterday’s preparations and improvements. When our teams, our organizations, and we fail to learn, grow, and develop at the speed of change (or faster), then change is a very real threat. If change finds us unprepared, it can be deadly.