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Change, At What Pace? And to What End?

March 27, 2017

A recent Harvard Business Review article, Rethinking the Corporate Love Affair with Change, caught my attention.  I am one of several professors in VUHRD who teaches the Organizational Change Management course in the program.  This course is one of my favorites that I have both taken and taught.  I find the study of change fascinating because the theories and applications go beyond just organizational effectiveness; they really can be applied to our individual lives.  

This HBR article discusses the tendency for business leaders today to err on the side of change, rather than protect the status quo. "This bias toward speed and change - and above all, speedy change - belies humanity's innate, and often advantageous, embrace of a blend of change and stability."  I could not agree more.  While I believe that change is a constant and is necessary to move a business (or individual) forward towards growth, change efforts should be entered into only after careful consideration of alternatives that may be just as cost-effective and advantageous for the business.  

 

Need a recent example?  I can think of no better caution for the need to carefully consider change than the decision of Victoria's Secret to completely eliminate their print catalog. Print is dead, right?  So the decision to reduce $150 million annually spent in print advertising would seem like a no brainer.  But this rush to change ended up costing L Brands, the owner of the Victoria's Secret Brand, almost 40% of their stock price over the past 12 months.   With the shift in consumer behavior away from mall traffic and toward online purchasing, the print catalog was one of the main ways Victoria's Secret customers learned about new products and sales. The rush to move away from print and save millions might have seemed like an easy change to implement, but change is never that easy and this one might have needed a little more thought about the effect on the consumer. As one marketing blog put it, "Print isn’t dead, it’s evolving. And, research shows that print is still a strong motivator to purchase, especially when it’s part of a robust omnichannel marketing plan."  The decision to eliminate such an important piece of a business' marketing success should not be a rushed decision.  "The task of the executive managing change today is thus not to turn the entire organization into an intestine by extracting value, and discarding waste, as quickly as possible.  It is to ask of change in any one area of business: At what pace? And to what end?  Effective executives (must) learn to balance the tension between going slow and moving fast by studying the context of their choices."

"The task of the executive managing change today is thus not to turn the entire organization into an intestine by extracting value, and discarding waste, as quickly as possible.  It is to ask of change in any one area of business: At what pace? And to what end?  Effective executives (must) learn to balance the tension between going slow and moving fast by studying the context of their choices."

--Zachary First, Harvard Business Review

As Cummings and Worley describe in the opening chapter of the textbook we use in the Organizational Change Management course, "organizations are in the midst of unprecedented uncertainty and chaos."  With all this disruption, I think it can be difficult to take the time necessary to ask those questions, "At what pace? And to what end?"  But we must remember that change for the sake of change does not necessarily make our organizations better, just different.  We must be careful to not mistake change with progress and be cautious of the change we implement.  As L Brands learned, not all change leads to a higher bottom line or more productivity.    

 

If you are considering a change, in your business or even your personal life, ask yourself, "At what pace? And to what end?"  

 

 

_______________

Bethany J. Adams, MA is an Assistant Director in the Graduate HRD program at Villanova University.  Learn more about her here!

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