Mogers Drewett: Achieving Measurable Gains Through Marginal Change

By Ben Morris, Head of People and Performance, Mogers Drewett

There is a well-worn statistic that suggests that 70 per cent of organisational change initiatives fail. In the world of DevOps (IT operations and development), medium performers can expect a failure rate of between 15 and 45 per cent – between one and three in every seven deployments.

And yet, change is all around us, and within us, all the time. Much of it, without any active or conscious involvement from us. So, despite what some might say, we can do change.

Uncertainty is a threat
Humans are efficiency engines. Our wiring, both factory standard and modified, is about preserving energy, which is why we tend to stick to the familiar, even if that is worse for us than the new way. Most change requires us to maintain conscious awareness of what we want and what to do to keep us moving that way. And that gets tiring.

Corporate Leadership Council research suggests that 50 per cent of corporate leaders did not know whether recent organisational changes had succeeded. Uncertainty is a threat – not just about what the future might hold but what any of the possible futures might mean to us, how much agency we might have over those future, and what they might mean for us in the eyes of others (especially management and peers).

Evoke the motivation to persist
If those who initiate or sign-off on a change programme cannot tell if something has been successful, doesn’t it say volumes about the definition of success? Perhaps it was not clear what success would look like or the goalposts have moved. That might be because the market has shifted, rendering the change irrelevant (frustrating but not a failing in the change project) or, as is very common, having achieved what was set out, we’re left feeling that it could or should have been more (again, not unusual but not a change fail). It all contributes to uncertainty.

So, we need to work hard on evoking the motivation to persist – clarity of success at the beginning; calling out the behaviours you wanted to see; celebrating the successes and achievement of doing the work (even if the original impetus changes) are crucial for feeding our sense of being seen and appreciated.

In that spirit, go to where the work is done and pay attention to what is being done, not what you thought should be being done. Without judgement, ask why it is being done that way. The Gemba (a Japanese term meaning “the actual place”) is not just where problems arise, it is where your team seek to resolve challenges to getting things done, in line with what they believe to be important based on their values and the organisation’s expectations.

Make changes feel small
Start small but make even that change seem smaller. Then celebrate doing it, and repeat. Use that new level as your platform to build from, but keep the next change simple and as close as possible to what you can now already do.

It may feel like this is advocacy to stay still in a comfort zone, and you’d be half-right. This is about growing our comfort zone so that we absorb into it what used to be out of reach. “Go big or go home” makes headlines but chunking gives a better chance of creating a physical, mental and social environment that helps change happen and stick.

Neuroscientist, George Leonard was on to something when he wrote: “Resistance is proportionate to the size and speed of the change, not to whether the change is favourable or not”.

Ben Morris,
Head of People and Performance,
Human Resources,
Tel: 01225 750050,
Mogers Drewett, St James House, The Square, Lower Bristol Road, Bath BA2 3BH