David Michels: Is Your Change Creating a Flood?

Leaders who set off change floods, without the proper systems in place to manage them, do so at their peril. David Michels, who leads Bain's Results Delivery® practice in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, outlines what leaders can do to turn the challenge of initiative overload into an opportunity for growth.

Read the Managing Change blog post: Is Your Change Creating a Flood?

Read the transcript below.

DAVID MICHELS: There was an interesting study a couple of years ago of over a thousand board directors who had gone through a change of CEO. And when asked why they needed to make that CEO change, the No. 1 reason was the inability to effectively manage change in the organization. What typically happens is that there's a bold ambition that's put on the table and then a bunch of initiatives that are launched in service of achieving that ambition.

But from the organization's perspective, it often feels like a massive change flood, a tsunami of stuff that's getting thrown at them. And these change floods happen all the time. We also know from empirical studies that only 12% of the time do change programs actually achieve the ambition that they set out to achieve in the beginning.

The challenge that we understand from the world of behavioral science is that when people feel overwhelmed, that not only are they not able to take on new initiatives or new activities on top of what they're already doing, but their ability to work productively on the things that they're already doing is compromised, because the feelings of anxiety and stress of having all these things being thrown in your direction. What to do about it: basically two things. The first is about rigorous prioritization. It's easy to say; it's hard to do. This is fundamentally about having the courage to say "no" to a few good ideas, good initiatives, so that a couple of great initiatives have the room to flourish.

The second category of actions is about increasing the metabolism of the organization over time to absorb more change and more quickly. These involved more nuanced levers of being targeted of where within the organization are the speed bumps, where we're asking greater levels of change, and where the value of that part of the organization to achieve our ambition is also very, very important. These can include levers like increasing capacity in the form of temporary or permanent resources.

It can include levers like resequencing the initiatives that you're pursuing. It can include also training of different individuals and parts of the organization to increase resilience. So that at the end of the day when you see warning signs that the floodgates are about to be overwhelmed, that you do two things—that the first is that you have the courage to say "no" to initiative overload. And the second is that you use the opportunity to build greater resilience and agility into the organization over time.

Read the Managing Change blog post: Is Your Change Creating a Flood?