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The Future of Organizational Change

Last week, I went with a colleague to one of my favorite local restaurants for Martini Monday. After a martini (or two), we started a lively discussion about Organizational Change and its current relevance in today’s world. Her position was within the 21st century, Organizational Change has now leveled. Her argument being that organizations saw so much change in the 80’s and 90’s with mergers/acquisitions, restructuring, internet boom, global initiatives, etc. that we are now an era of trying to optimize those changes, rather than introducing new changes.

I have to be honest with you, I hadn’t even considered this position. I am, after all, a change consultant, so I tend to get called when change is occurring. And, selfishly, I love my job so I have a vested interest for change to continue!

But, as I left that night and thought about this notion over the next week, I began to ask myself if I too, have been lured in by the propaganda that we so often hear regarding the intensity and complexity of continuous organizational change. Did Alvin Toffler grossly overstate his prediction that survival was predicated on individuals being “infinitely more adaptable and capable than ever before” while searching “out totally new ways to anchor ourselves, for all the old roots – religion, nation, community, family, or profession – are now shaking under the hurricane impact of the accelerative thrust” (Toffler, 1970)?

Are organizations now pivoting to a new stable environment?

So, I started thinking about what I’ve experienced in my consulting practice and what we are learning from the external environment in terms of workforce projections. Consider this…

A 2013 study by researchers at Oxford University posited that as many as 47% of all jobs in the United States are at risk of “computerization.” Moreover, Pew Research Center surveying technology experts predicted that advances in robotics and computing applications will result in a net displacement of jobs over the coming decades – with potentially profound implications for both workers and society as a whole.By 2050, the U.S. population is expected to increase by 50 percent, and minority groups will make up nearly half the population. Immigration will account for almost two-thirds of the nation’s population growth (Department of Labor, 2015).By 2025, when China will be home to more large companies than either the United States or Europe, nearly half of the world’s large companies ($1 billion or more) will be headquartered in emerging markets (McKinsey and Company, 2015).By 2020 it is estimated that there will be over 50 billion devices connected to the internet. Cloud Computing will dominate which will influence where people work and how the work gets done (CISCO Connected World Technology Report, 2011).A McKinsey Global Institute report notes that while 72 percent of companies use social technologies, very few are close to achieving the potential benefit from them. Predictions suggest greater utilization of social technologies in the workplace over the next ten years.

My position is that innovation, growth and globalization will continue with even greater intensity. As such, the above predictions and many more will necessitate tremendous change for organizations across the globe. So, for practitioners of change and business leaders trying to optimize change, what are the implications? (1) Making Change Stick and Measuring Its Effectiveness-I’ve always been troubled by the ubiquitous statistic that circulates suggesting that 2/3 of all change efforts fail. Implicit within that statistic is the notion that 2/3 of change doesn’t happen. We know that change happens-acquisitions get closed, ERP systems get implemented, Shared Services Organizations are stood up, and reorganization occurs. What I see in my practice, however, is that often times, those changes aren’t done very well. Moreover, given that we don’t utilize metrics (both quantitative and qualitative) to measure change effectiveness, we really don’t know the impact to organizational health and functioning. This is a big opportunity for change practitioners to help our business leaders think through change effectiveness. (2) Building Change Capability-If 21st century change has evolved to continuous and complex, how do we develop our workforce to be change capable, agile and adaptive? As a change consultant, I get called in for “event based change” and one of my first objectives is to try and reframe the discussion for my clients to think more broadly about building the capability through internal means. This a long term/multi-dimensional effort that I believe can transform organizational effectiveness. (3) Finally, we need to start having the discussion about “change fatigue”. If you think about it, intensity of change is not just happening in our work environments. As an example, my kids go to a charter school and I’m bombarded with emails on new learning solutions that the school is trying or fund raising events that they are incorporating. Similarly, the expectations to change personally whether it be eating healthier, new exercise programs, meet up groups, social media engagement, etc.. is ever present. The amount of change, both personally and professionally, is daunting and this pheonmena, in a 21st century context, and the implications is really unknown. In the 1970’s, a researcher by the Dr. Shaufeli started studying “burnout” and through his studies drew conclusions about burnout and the impact to one’s psychological state. Are we, as a global society, at risk of generating a similar outcome?

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