We are told that past performance is not necessarily a guide to future performance, especially when making personal financial investments. That’s why, in organisations, we write business cases to prove to ourselves we will get a return on investment. How does this apply to transformational change, when it’s not just finances, but relationships between people that need to change? We are told that past performance is not necessarily a guide to future performance… but it is a good place to start.
Past – Present – Future … where do you tend to start?
“I want to change the culture,” is something I hear a lot from potential clients. They have an idea of what is NOT working and a vague notion that “empowerment”, more accountability” or “better collaboration” are the ways to change things. They then immediately set about defining what the future will look like and writing their business case. If this sounds familiar, chances are you are already on the path to failure. That is because you have over-rationalised it and are trying to make a purely financial case for investment.
The Future is unwritten
I’m not going to bore you with facts and figures about the failure of change programmes. You’ll know yourself that organisations often choose to invest in tangible things that can be measured in financial terms. Thing like restructuring, new systems and business processes. They tend to spend less effort investing in building truly collaborative way of working, innovating and problem-solving. Because these are hard to do. Also, writing business cases forces you down that path. It is often a logical place to start, but it is not the whole story.
Let the Future remain unwritten for a little longer
In my experience, organisations that over rely on these rational aspects of change tend to achieve limited success, smaller business benefits and alienate their people. Those organisations that consider the softer, relationship-orientated, people aspects of change achieve better results. Sometimes. A major issue, even when culture is properly considered, is that those seeking the change only look forwards to envision a brighter future.
Opportunities lie in the Past as well as the Future
This is, I fear, only half the story. By looking at how your organisation got to where it is today, you will understand what aspects of your current culture are already working well and need preserving. Reflect on the journey taken to get to where you are today, the successes, the failures, what has been learned (and what has not). This will give you a better understanding of what makes your organisation tick, and what might be holding it back.
Now is all there is
By achieving a deeper understanding of the Past, you allow yourself, collectively with your people, to let it go. You will become more intently focused on the Present. I believe the Present is really all that truly exists. Looking to the Past helps us understand the Present. Looking to the future tries to hi-Jack the Present and force it into something it is not ready to be.
Be right here, right now with your people and allow your Future Intention to emerge collectively from collaborative sense-making and reflecting on learnings from the Past. Pay attention to the Present to make your Future Intention a reality. There are a few simple, practical techniques and ways of working that can be applied every day to do this. The result is transformational. The result is the culture change you are seeking.
Jeremy J Lewis, committed to making a difference in embedding sustainable change