Countless books are written on how to make successful changes in organizations. All self-respecting universities offer courses in change management. There is no doubt that implementing fundamental changes in organizations is one of the hardest disciplines in management. And there are many leaders who have failed in the process of implementing major changes, because they were too hasty and did not have the necessary acceptance and ownership in the organization.
Without theorizing unnecessarily and without wanting to disparage recognized leadership experts, I would argue that change is as simple as pulse.
I spend much of my spare time on the road cycling. I love to sit in the wind on the Danish roads and eat kilometer after kilometer with good cycling friends. During recent years, I have been involved in “Hjælperytterne”, which is a charity project that raises money for the Arthritis Foundation, through the organization of an annual bike race. The last two years we have cycled to Oslo, and in the summer of 2015, we will cycle 1,000 kilometers around Denmark. The idea of the project is that round 140 riders start an intensive training program in December, culminating in the mentioned race. When we first meet, many have never sat on a racing bike before, but most of the riders complete the training and cross the finishing line – because we perform as a team and help each other through the crises.
As one of the more experienced cyclists, I often lead the field, which means that I set the pace. Therefore, I must be aware of the “mood” in the field and ensure that the speed is not too high or too low. I have my back to the field and because of the wind, it may be difficult to hear what is happening behind me. During many races over many kilometers, I have learned that when I have a pulse of 117 beats per minute, the field is performing ideally. This means that we are not riding too fast or too slow and we can go on for many kilometers without a break. If I speed up, so my pulse is 122, we lose riders and if I get below 110, people begin to chat, get bored and lose focus. The optimal race is achieved when my pulse is 117.
This is exactly the case when it comes to change management. You must know the organization’ changing pulse. When you have to make major changes, it is essential that you understand how the organization is doing. It does not help that the leader sets a high pace of change if the organization cannot and will not follow! On the other hand, it does not make sense if the pace of change is too low, then the employees get bored and lose motivation.
Every organization has its own changing pulse. Few organizations love and are used to change, while most organizations and employees detest change. As a leader, you must be very conscious of that. If the leader’s changing pulse is too high in relation to the organization then it fails and the change project “runs into the ditch”
Like in the biking field, it is all about training. As a leader, you can train your organization in handling change. This is done by implementing small changes in the beginning in order to train the employees in handling change. It can be small things that are changed, but over time, the organization can handle major transformations.
It is also about making sure that the organization is not “hitting the wall” in changes, because if that happens, the leader sits alone in the wind without support, and it is not a fun place to be! On the other hand, it is a great feeling when everyone in the team has crossed the finish line and the change project is successful. Then the organization is ready for the next stage and can set new goals.
Thomas Honoré is Chief Executive officer and President of Columbus.