Liquid Change: How Organizations Can Overcome Change Fatigue

In a not so distant past, change professionals would learn from business leaders that change was cyclical within their organizations (one or two per year), and each cycle had a beginning, middle, and end. In response, we would craft a multi-step, linear plan to help guide clients navigate that transformation – inevitably celebrating its conclusion when the benchmarks established were met. Back then we talked a lot about the need for people in organizations to “embrace change.” And for the most part, they listened.

As time went on we noticed that change within organizations began to accelerate. As a result, existing change management plans would be derailed when another, equally sizable change concurrently hit the company. A second insight began to crystallize: professionals within these companies were getting exhausted and depleted with the ever-increasing pace of change. The idea of embracing change was now met with sheer incredulity and, in some cases, fear.

The evolution of what we call Liquid Change is the culmination of a two decade-long journey of research, countless conversations with colleagues, leaders and clients, and the experience of helping organizations around the world reach their business objectives through change management. And it is with great pleasure that I announce the launch of Ketchum Change’s new Liquid Change Study.

This notion of “change fatigue” was born and confirmed by the results of our study when we learned that 74% of over 500 respondents said that change fatigue exists within their companies; with 39% reporting that it’s highly pervasive.

What’s even more alarming is that the pace of change shows no signs of slowing down. That thought doesn’t energize people – it exhausts them (click to tweet). The old models of finding a clean and logical path through change aren’t working anymore. We need a different way of thinking about change, one that acknowledges that it is a constant, non-linear, and complex reality.

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You need only look at the recent tombstones of some iconic companies to understand that even historically prosperous organizations that fail to embrace change die. And leaders know that their ability to thrive through change is no longer an option. Our study found that 95% of respondents reported that effectively managing change is critical to a business’ success.

We now know that change is truly a state of being, not a series of organizational events. Based on this, we believe successful organizations will develop what we like to refer to as “change muscles.” A set of attributes, which strengthen over time, that enables them to be “liquid” – flexing quickly to capitalize on changes within their culture and marketplace. Based on our collective experience helping organizations lead and thrive through change, we identified, tested and confirmed through our study’s findings, the four characteristics that make up a liquid organization.

1. They are transparent, and leaders within them communicate in a human way

2. They are pioneering, and encourage taking risks to stay ahead of the market

3. They are deeply dialed-in with customers, consumers and employees, and listen carefully to them

4. They are agile and flexible, and can turn on a dime to capitalize on opportunities

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Click on the above image to download our Liquid Change infographic!

We now have quantitative verification that focusing on these areas of change really does work, and that building change muscles will diminish change fatigue and facilitate better business outcomes. More importantly, having engaged in dialogue with a multitude of leaders to talk about the idea of Liquid Change and to co-create the topic with us, we know the idea resonates, and gets them energized and optimistic about change again.

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The Best Weapons in the Battle for World-Class Talent and Ideas

Creativity and innovation are topics that seem to be almost inescapable. A Google search on the topics returns 131 million results, and Amazon lists nearly 16,000 books on the combined topic. But why are they so omnipresent? Because the battle for world-class talent and break through ideas in today’s low-growth, highly-disruptive world is fiercer than ever. To combat this, companies must have a culture and organizational architecture that promotes creativity and innovation as they seek to gain and maintain competitive advantage.

So where to begin?

First, know and evaluate the four primary areas that inhibit or promote great creativity and innovation:

1. A company’s enabling and support of operational process.

2. Culture and leadership

3. The physical and digital environment

4. Assumptions and beliefs of employees and the organization

An honest assessment of how you’re performing in these areas, and how they work in concert, is vital to creating the conditions necessary for innovative success. As part of this assessment, there is one fundamental question that each leader, team and organization needs to ask themselves in today’s environment – are you able to change as fast as the world around you? If your answer isn’t a definitive “yes,” then you have an opportunity to unlock and unleash tremendous value by dismantling these barriers that keep innovation from flourishing.

We at Ketchum Change know that “Liquid companies that are able to foster innovation and adapt quickly to both opportunities and challenges possess four key traits:

1. Agile: Being driven by passion and desire to seize opportunities in real-time is part of their core values and DNA. It’s how they attract, hire and develop talent and orient their organization to seize advantages, instead of being afraid of risk, change and challenges.

2. Dialed-In: They use progressive approaches to create strong connections with internal and external stakeholders, embrace proactive listening, and foster co-creation.

3. Transparent: They communicate with clarity, timeliness and authenticity across borders and organizational levels.

4. Pioneering: They promote and create systems and incentives to provoke curiosity and support risk-taking to innovate.

To become “Liquid,” here are a few ideas to set conditions for success in your organization:

1. Stay connected with employees

2. Create a direct line of communication between leaders and employees

3. Be transparent by breaking down (or even destroying!) organizational barriers

4. Give employees context… and the ability to spark ideas

5. Lead by example by driving creativity and innovation in your own space

And don’t forget to leave a comment below if you have any questions or thoughts about how to bolster creativity and innovation in your organization.

Liquid Change in Latin America: BRICS, Mortars and Frontiers

We recently had the pleasure of meeting with friends and colleagues at our offices in Argentina and Brazil. While on my trip, by way of some great opportunities arranged by our gracious hosts, we had the opportunity to take a closer look at the communications and change management landscape of the region.

The world has turned its eyes towards Latin America, and for good reason. With rich histories, abundant resources and dynamic economies, it’s now a pivotal time for businesses to maximize their growth in the region if they hope to adapt to the pace and nuances of each market.

Here are a few of my observations on communication opportunities that exist in this space, particularly in areas that are experiencing more rapid change than their European and US counterparts.

1. Reaching the Next Stage of Maturity
Argentina’s Frontier economy and Brazil’s BRIC economy are both experiencing shifts that are modernizing the landscape of the markets. As industries continue to grow, change management and highly effective internal communications are particularly important to businesses focusing on how they operate, allocate resources and achieve new stages of growth.

2. Setting a High Bar
With a large number of multinational businesses in both Brazil and Argentina, it’s clear that there are tremendous advantages for global organizations to continue building a presence by investing in advanced workforce and talent infrastructures that support and attract the best people. As the products, brands and reputations of these businesses rapidly evolve from local to global, organizations must maintain local expertise and agile communications while bolstering their talent capabilities.

3. Scaling Excellence
Brazil is home to 75 unique cultures and a geographic footprint larger than India. With such a large and diverse landscape, companies have a unique opportunity to tap into enormous employee enthusiasm and regional pride, creating dynamic cultures that drive productivity, growth and consumer confidence. The first step should be to actively shape a high-performance culture by harnessing the potential of sophisticated internal communications and compelling employee value propositions (EVP). Look to develop a system that instinctively reacts to market changes, rewards innovative thinking and is dialed-in to the local environment.

4. Break Through with Creativity and Innovation
As businesses navigate fluctuating economies, regulatory environments and political parties, it’s more important than ever to harness employees’ creativity and innovation. Creating a work environment that rewards new ideas and breaks down traditional hierarchies and siloes, so brilliant ideas from anywhere can be turned into innovative actions and products, will help businesses develop a clear advantage.

As companies both big and small look to cultivate future-proof organizations in this exciting region, they will need to deftly handle the unique challenges within each market. It’s clear that for local organizations, having a strong internal communications foundation built into their rapid expansion plans will help them compete within the global landscape, while global brands can benefit from a change system that helps them become more nimble and tap into the nuances and unique challenges in each market. For both, having ‘Liquid Change’ organizations will be crucial as the world’s attention is increasingly drawn toward Latin America.