I have just re-read one of the best articles on change I have read in the last few years. In April’s Harvard Business Review Heike Bruch and Jochen Menges wrote an article called the ‘Acceleration Trap.’
The article describes a phenomenon we often see in our work. Organisations are fixated on making so many changes happen that they overwhelm people, lose energy and, ultimately, the company’s performance suffers. They describe three symptoms to look out for: overloaded employees, people doing too many activities and the habit of constant change. They give short descriptions of three companies - Hilti, Senova and Phoenix Contracts - who took actions to deal with this issue and got really focused around executing change successfully rather than treasuring and savouring activity.
They have a great checklist that you can use to work out if you have an ‘Acceleration Culture’. It has questions such as ‘Does your company visibly value hard work over tangible results? And, are managers expected to act as role models by being involved in multiple projects?
They also have some really practical actions to review with executives. One of my favourites which we have seen work is to ‘slow down to speed up’. The idea is that if you can stop and take some time to reflect and plan properly you actually get better results. We have seen that pay off so many times. People rush into executing change without planning properly and then either they have to start again, the initiative is left barely breathing at deaths door or it has to be re-done next year (with a new name , of course). Change is a bit like decorating your house. Good preparation is critical.
We see this article playing out in our work. People can have great change management skills, processes and tools but if they are overwhelmed by the sheer weight of change that’s hitting them then it’s very hard to be an effective change agent. If you are an executive with responsibilities for a large agenda of change this article will make sobering and thought-provoking reading.