Every improvement is a change, but not every change is an improvement. I assume everyone has accumulated sufficient experience to know that fact. Nevertheless, organizations (and in organizations I actually mean management) continues to choose change, in the same exact way that results with only 30% of the changes leading to actual improvements.
One might say that 30% is a good success rate, but that would be very misleading conclusion. There are two reasons for that; the first one is that even those success cases are not necessarily the changes that could have affected performance the most, and the second is that people develop extreme disbelief in change processes. The second outcome leads to diminishing commitment to change processes, which is even worse than the first effect, and makes future change initiatives even more difficult.
So, maybe we do not need to change? Well, I assume this is clearly not a valid option. Not changing means choosing not to improve and worse not to adapt to the changing reality. A company that does not adopt and improve, cannot survive (or at least cannot deliver on its most important objective – sustainable value creation for all its stake holders, which with time will unavoidably lead to bankruptcy)
So, change is absolutely mandatory, choosing a “wrong” change wastes the company’s resources and cash and meaningfully diminishes people willingness to change (and even contributes to their arguments against it).
Therefore, there is a need to develop the ability of management to make a better choice. To be able to choose a change that is highly likely to result with noticeable and relevant improvement in performance and that it is clear even before the actions of implementing the change are starting, that this is the case (i.e., the change will very likely result with the desired improvement).
The first guideline to follow is the realization that in order to improve the whole system, it is not required to improve everything. A “good” improvement initiative focuses on one change that results with positive effects for the company as a whole. As management attention is limited and as the company cannot invest unlimited resources into its improvement initiatives the process of choosing needs to start with identifying the best area to focus the improvement efforts. The company’s performance is limited either by not having sufficient demand (while having sufficient capacity to satisfy a meaningfully larger demand), or by not being able to satisfy the existing demand placed on it (the demand meaningfully exceeds available capacity). Identifying where the company is in respect to these two options, will immediately point management at the right area to focus the improvement efforts. Thus, the second guideline for a successful improvement initiative is – Focus on the one area that is highly likely to have the most meaningful effect on performance.
Once the focus area has been identified, it is time to identify the one change that will have the most meaningful effect, the fastest. This can be achieved by accepting that complex systems are made of entities interdependent. Therefore start as anyone would normally do – map all the key challenges that currently exist and prevent performance from being better. Continue differently – instead of sorting, quantifying and choosing – link them together as they all are interconnected with causalities. Assuming they are not, and trying to “solve” them separately ignores the nature of their existence and is highly likely to end up with dissatisfying results. It is easy to link them up, and once you start it smoothly runs. The good news is, that as you link these items one to the other, you will notice that the list converges, leaving you at the end with one or two items and the “root” of this connections map. Now you know where to focus, you know what you must change. Thus, the third guideline for a successful improvement initiative is – Map the causalities between all existing performance challenges to identify the root ones. If you solve this ones, you will solve all of the ones they are leading too and thus with one change initiative solve a large number of performance challenges. The expected result is the largest possible performance improvement (as with one change you solve many challenges) and the shortest possible time to realize them (as you are only implementing one change).
Change is mandatory, but it is not mandatory that you accept the appalling 30% success rate, it is not mandatory that so much of your management attention, investment and efforts are invested in initiatives that are doomed to fail. You can do much better; don’t try to improve everything for improving whole, choose the appropriate area of improvement and acknowledge all challenges interfering with improved performance are interconnected and you start your improvement journey from a meaningfully better starting point.