December 13, 2006

The failure rate of change management in organizations is very high. Often they fail outright or fall sort of expectations. The problem lies somewhere in the way any change initiative is approached. Most change management programs start with structure of an organization, and there lies the problem that ensures that these programs don't deliver desired results.

Organization is not about structures, processes, systems, technology, hierarchies, and culture. These are mere branches or offshoots of an organization. The roots of any organization are the people who work there. Any change management initiative that doesn't start with people is bound to fail. The mantra of any successful change management is "people first, everything else next".

The point is simple – you can have best structure, processes, systems and technology, yet if your people are not willing or are unequipped to deliver, everything will come to naught. So unless one starts with people, one can't change an organization. To grow a healthy plant you need to nourish the roots so that nutrients reach all parts of the plant. You can prune down the plant, you can clean the leaves and polish them, you can support the stem, and you can artificially scent the flowers; but if the roots are not well nourished, all these will not prevent the plant from decay and death. Roots are crucial for survival. Similarly, you need to start with people – the roots of any organization – in any change initiative so that right energy flows to various offshoots of the organization and helps it grow in the desired direction. If roots of the organization are taken care of, rest of the things can be managed with a little tweaking and pruning here and there.

But changing people is not so simple or easy. It’s all about behaviour changes, training, cajoling, persuading, badgering, convincing, confronting, shaping-up, and shipping-out. It’s an interplay of opposite poles to create harmony amid conflicts. But it is definitely not impossible. Perhaps, it is the only sensible way to ensure that change initiatives succeed in organizations.