The most perfect project plan, the most perfect training plan, the most perfect communication plan will fail if it is launched in an organisation with low change capacity.
Change management is often presented as the magical silver bullet that can ease the way of any project. When a project fails, you will soon hear people blaming it on poor change management.
Bad timing. Bad communication. Bad training.
When things do not work out as planned, an automatic reaction is to blame it on the people.
We individualize the problem. We blame it on someone, on somebody: if only somebody did a better job, if only somebody were better, if only somebody knew better – then everything would be fine.
Very often, the problem is not the people. Nor the project.
The problem is very often the setting, in which the project takes place. The settings, in which people work.
Ease of change depends on organizational characteristics
Think about it like this: The project is the foreground of our focus. The organisation in which the project takes place is the blurred background, that receives limited attention.
Often, we direct our full attention to what goes on in the project. We look at the foreground, and we interpret everything related to the project within the narrow definition of the project. And we forget the background. We forget that the project takes place in an organisation with certain characteristics, and that these characteristics may determine the success of a project.
Imagine that you are the project manager of a construction project. You are tasked with building castles of sand.
You may be the ultimate builder, project manager, communicator, or trainer – but the success of your sandcastle depends just as much on the characteristics of the beach, where it is built.
It depends on the composition of the sand, the tidal waves and the weather. The context where you build your castle is just as important as the management of the sandcastle project itself.
The same applies to change projects in organisations.
Some organisations are more favourable to changes than others. Not because their people have better skills or are less change resistant, but because the organisation is configured in ways that ease the speed of change.
This is called change capacity.
Change capacity can be built
You can build your organisation in ways that increase or decrease your change capacity.
Work is organized by means of a web of structural components, that determine how people behaves. You may ask them to do A, but if the structures pull them in the direction of B, they will move towards B.
Strategic priorities, hierarchies, rules, processes, systems, dominating behaviours, logics and old stories are examples of such structural components that shape the way people act and react.
Change capacity is a function of how well the different structural pieces fit together.
All organisations organize work in some ways. They lay out all sorts of structures. You cannot not have structure in an organisation. Because deciding not to have structures in place is also a kind of structure, because it organizes how people work.
The web of structural components is not permanent. You cannot compose them in any way you like, if you aim for change capacity. But you can learn the logics or structural fitness and integrate them as mindset and an approach to daily management practices.
This Blog post is published in collaboration with Birgitte Clausen, Speaker, Trusted Advisor, and Managing Director at Structures, a Strategic Business consultancy focusing on Change Capacity. Learn more about the offerings of Struqtures here.