They might be words I wrote myself. And if they aren’t they certainly convey a message that I have been promoting for quite a while now.
But whether I have written them or not doesn’t really matter. The message still had enough power to stop even me in my tracks! And they will surely resonate with any business leader today.
So what were they? And who wrote them?
They were “The ultimate competitive advantage in today’s business environment is the ability to change.” And they were written by Edward E Lawler III and Christopher G Worley in the preface to their book, “Built to Change.” (© 2006 John Wiley & Sons – Published by Jossey-Bass)
Now there is nothing new in the statement. After all we all know that change is ubiquitous. Even governments today are facing the need to change. What is striking is the claim that the ‘ability to change’ is the ultimate competitive advantage.
Yet it is not the statement itself that is so striking, but its implications. You see we are all dealing with change on a daily basis. And it’s not just our experience; we read and hear so much about it that we have come to recognise change management as an essential competency. So of course you know that it is vital for survival. Therefore, even if you haven’t spelled it out in so many words, you know that it has to be something that gives you a competitive advantage.
But it isn’t your change management capability that gives you that competitive advantage; it’s that ‘ability to change.’
What is the difference? It is a small, subtle, but very significant difference. As the term implies, change management is the ability to deal with change. Change ability on the other hand is the ability to adapt to change. And that is where this book really comes into its own.
It makes the point that you traditionally build organisations to be stable. Organisational design and management theory and practice all aim to maintain control, consistency and order through best practice. As a result they are inherently change resistant. Thus change management, in the author’s words, is about “unfreezing, moving and refreezing.” This is clearly counter-productive in a world of constant change.
Yet we continue to work against ourselves. For example we increasingly recognise the importance of people and value for them for their ability to think, analyze and problem solve. Yet despite this, we continue to constrain them by imposing rigid job descriptions, rigid hours, and rigid rules and systems upon them. Thus you perpetuate the paradox: you want them to be more adaptable but create a culture that precludes this.
Clearly to create the competitive advantage to survive and thrive, you have to create a culture of change ability. And to do that, you have to have people who are totally aligned with the organisational objectives. So your challenge is to find a way to create that organisational alignment.
I cannot think of a better way to lay the foundation for change ability than by making the employees co-owners of the business. Can you? So what are you waiting for?