Is your business ready to change?

Being able to change is essential to business success.

Charles Darwin once wrote: "It isn't the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change."

The fact that the movie 'Jurassic Park' (1993) was about dinosaurs and filmed by relatively small primates, rather than the other way round, suggests that Darwin was right.

For a living creature, physical responsiveness to change is vital for long-term survival. For an organisation, its change capability is equally vital for its survival. Why? Ultimately because the environment in which living creatures or organisations exist is inevitably going to change. In the days of the dinosaurs, the Earth's atmosphere was thicker than it is today, which helps to explain why massive flying dinosaurs thrived. Once the atmosphere grew thinner, their wings could no longer support them and most of the species of flying dinosaurs died out, except some of the smaller ones, which most zoologists agree evolved into birds.

Quick change

Environments in which organisations exist change too, and much more quickly. Since the late 19th century, the social, business and technological world has been changing at an enormous, some might say alarming, rate.

A boy born back in 1880, when motor cars didn't even exist and the first powered, sustained and controlled airplane flight still lay 23 years in the future, could as an old man of 89 years have seen Neil Armstrong's moonwalk on TV. Since then the pace of change has been just as relentless, and now we even have a prodigious, global-spanning virtual world, as well as a physical one.

But it isn't only technology that makes change happen. Customers' tastes and needs change, too, and this is just as true of customers of business-to-consumer organisations and of business-to-business ones. In practice, the need for business change is one of the few reliable constants that organisations are likely to experience. This being so, the ability to change is inevitably the key requirement for ongoing success.

Being prepared

Organisations need to be able to foster and implement change quickly at a wide range of levels. Change relating to an organisation's business processes, however, is especially important. Why? Because your business processes are those activities at your organisation that produce a product or service that meets the needs of your customers. This intimate linkage between business process and your customers means that business process is at the 'front line' of your change activities and deserves particular attention when assessing your organisation's change capability.

Why assess your change capability at all? Because, simply, it is a vital aspect of your organisation's potential for success... and indeed for survival. Many organisations, though, including some that are currently highly successful, have a surprisingly low change capability. Such organisations are especially vulnerable to environmental change. After all, the dinosaurs once ruled the Earth.


My consultancy, Decision Focus, has compiled a user-friendly, ten-point questionnaire that will give you a good initial sense of the state of your organisation's change capability. For every question there are three answers: one is (we think) the best answer or close to it; another is a reasonable answer, and the third is outrageous.

All the same, and even though you won't have any difficulty spotting the outrageous answer, the way to make the most of this questionnaire is to answer it honestly according to how you think things really are at your organisation, not how you'd like them to be.

Don't even be afraid of ticking the outrageous answer if you feel it's the right one: after all, the point of the questionnaire is to give you a tool for self-assessment that will let you, if necessary, implement changes that boost your change capability and make it what it should be: a vital, energetic and living dynamic that lets your organisation face the future not only with confidence but also with excitement.

Take the 'capability change' MCQ

1) Which of the following statements best summarises what change means to your organisation?

A) It stops us doing our jobs properly.

B) It allows us to be everything we can be as an organisation.

C) It is a necessary part of doing business.


2) Which of the following statements best summarises how your senior management team view change?

A) They enjoy inspiring and leading organisational-wide change directed at winning maximum competitive edge.

B) They initiate change initiatives but often don't fully support them all the way through.

C) They see it as a threat to their power base.


3) Which of the following statements best summarises how your organisation actually facilitates change?

A) We change as a response to what our competitors are doing and to changes in the marketplace.

B) People who advocate change normally end up getting fired.

C) We take pride in being at the vanguard of vitally important change for our industry.


4) Which of the following statements best summarises how your organisation actually manages change projects?

A) We have robust and flexible project management processes that we use to manage change and to ensure that we continually improve.

B) He who shouts loudest gets heard.

C) We follow documented project management processes.


5) Which of the following statements best summarises the contribution you think your human resources department can make to successful change at your organisation?

A) The HR department is useful for helping mobilise change.

B) I don't see what change has to do with the HR department at all.

C) We believe successful change only happens because people understand the need for it and are willing to change.


6) Which of the following statements best summarises how you see technology in relation to successful change at your organisation?

A) Technology is a matter for the IT department.

B) We regard technology as a prime facilitator for change but our technological implementations are always led by business needs.

C) Whenever we see that some important new technology has become available we'll think of how we can deploy it usefully in our organisation.


7) Thinking now of your business processes - which of the following statements best summarises how you change process at your organisation?

A) We want individual departments within our organisation to work with maximum efficiency, but when it comes to changing process our initiative always focuses on process end-to-end

B) We just tell people what to do and they'd better do it.

C) We find it a problem that politics between individual departments can inhibit our initiatives to effect changes in process.


8) Which of the following statements best summarises how you measure your performance as an organisation?

A) We measure performance on a department-by-department basis.

B) We focus on measuring the entire efficiency and effectiveness of the end-to-end process.

C) Performance measurement is just about money so we leave it to our accounts team.


9) Which of the following statements best summarises what you look for when appointing people to improve the efficiency of process at your organisation?

A) We use people who happen to be available.

B) We seek out people who
have a genuine ability to understand the role process plays end-to-end across departments.

C) We use managers of departments.


10) Which of the following statements best summarises the involvement you feel your customers should have in a major initiative to improve process?

A) We'll hire some telesales people and get them to talk to some of our customers.

B) The whole point of process is to produce deliverables for customers, so we focus our entire change initiative around customer needs and make sure we talk to customers about this at all times.

C) We think our customers should be jolly pleased that we're bothering to look after them at all.


How did you get on?

Q1: A 0, B 3, C 2

Q2: A 3, B 2, C 0

Q3: A 2, B 0, C 3

Q4: A 3, B 0, C 2

Q5: A 2, B 0, C 3

Q6, A 0, B 3, C 2

Q7:A 3, B 0, C 2

Q8:A 2, B 3, C 0

Q9: A 0, B 3, C 2

Q10: A 2, B 3, C 0


30 - 25: Your organisation is superbly equipped for successful change.

25 - 18: You have many bases covered but could still benefit from thinking hard about how to become better at organisational change.

17 - 10: You really need to do some serious thinking if you want to make your organisation truly flexible and adaptable. Customer needs are always changing and you need to change with them.

9 or below: Does your organisation really want to be in business in five years' time?

How did you do? Of course, this questionnaire is quite light-hearted, but it underlines a serious point: improving your change capability is critically and vitally important for organisations today, and the more dynamic and faster-moving your environment is, the more important your change capability is. Is your organisation good at changing to maximise success? If you think you could be better at it, you probably could be.

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