In my line of work, the I am usually asked to do a job because something is not working, or is not working as well as it should.  Since I am in a specialised area of business, the job that needs to be done may not always have the wholehearted support of local management but have been imposed upon them from higher up the food chain.  (There is another area of work which is generally of the same type wherever it may take place; work against smugglers and counterfeiters.)  Being a contractor, it is often possible for me to come up with more radical or far-reaching solutions than would be possible from inside the organisation, since everyone can ‘blame’ me when I pack up my desk and take my cheque.  Most of what I do involves change, and much of the time, managing change also, though I’m not going to get into that here; what I do want to talk about is; ‘Why change?’

There are two reasons to change something, whether it be a physical object or a process:  it is broken, or there is a better alternative.  The first case is easy to identify; if something isn’t working it is pretty damn obvious to all.  The second case may not always be so clear.  In what way is the alternative ‘better?’  It is necessary to demonstrate quite clearly to all concerned, (all ‘stakeholders,’ in the modern jargon,) why any proposed alternative to an existing thing or process, would be ‘better,’ than what is to be junked and replaced.

When making the case for change, there is a process which ought to be followed, maybe differing in petty detail from time to time, or place to place, but the same in broad outline and in the steps that make for a convincing argument.  First, the reason(s) for making the change need to be clearly identified.  Next the proposed change(s) need(s) to be clearly explained.  If there is more than one alternative, each needs to have it’s merits and drawbacks clearly shown.  Then a recommended change needs to be proposed.  The change should be supported by arguments drawn out of the first two steps.  Finally the costs – financial and organisational/social should be precisely and transparently demonstrated, ( including the costs of doing nothing.)

That’s how it goes.  If change is proposed, make the case.  If you can’t make the case, expect to be shredded.

13 thoughts on “Change”

  1. Eh, dear boy ain’t it about time you stood for the leader of the Liberal party?
    They need someone to explain to them that if it ain’t broke don’t fix it and that change for changes sake is rarely a good thing!

  2. If change is proposed, make the case. If you can’t make the case, expect to be shredded.

    The biggest hurdle one had to overcome when trying to implement change is that most people are resistant to change in any shape or form. They become emotionally attached to the ‘status quo’ and and refuse to look at the reasons for change – even when they are presented to them clearly and logically.

    Far too often change is made for change’s sake – which is just as bad as leaving well alone.

  3. Wasn’t it Darwin who said “It is not the strongest of the species that survive but those that are most able to adapt to change” or somat like that!

  4. The biggest hurdle one had to overcome when trying to implement change is that most people are resistant to change in any shape or form.

    Indeed, it is often the case that you have to bang people’s heads against the data to make it penetrate that armour of resistance. To achieve that, however, you must have clear and substantive supporting data in the first place. Too much argument in many spheres is based on ‘ought,’ instead of ‘is.’

  5. Boadicea – “Far too often change is made for change’s sake – which is just as bad as leaving well alone”

    Too true – in my line of work it has been clear that once in middle management one can only progress upwards if one evidences that one has had a bright idea and implimented “change”. Hence, I have seen the wheel reinvented several times in the last 17 years. Needless waste of time and money and consequential impacts on the workers’ lives for no good reason.

    However – taking the fence point of view – one of my personal frustrations in my line of work is the word “Tradition”. Often, I have asked the question “why” and been given the answer “because we’ve always done it that way”

    Sorry, that’s not good enough for me either!

    So taking your blog as a stand alone point, you are of course, absolutely correct. But…. change is necessary and a constant in human life, it doesn’t always need a good reason and often looks like a good choice a long time later even when initially it didn’t. Whether a voting system or a monachy, both could do with a damn good review occasionally! Life isn’t a business!

  6. So, what would you do wit the NHS?

    There are so many changes, daily it seems, in my line of work that you need to work full-time to keep abreast of them.

  7. ‘There are two reasons to change something, whether it be a physical object or a process: it is broken, or there is a better alternative.’

  8. But should one not regularly review to see if there is an alternative or whether the system is broken? It saddens me to hear the news that the question of electoral reform is over for a generation due to the referendum result – I don’t want to wait that long for change!

    As an aside, didn’t anyone notice that Cameron was elected as leader of the Tories by a system of AV? So was Millibaby – a classic demo of how AV can go so wrong!

  9. Review is, as you note, important and necessary. It should also be hard-nosed and focussed on ‘is,’ not ‘ought.’

  10. PS, cuprum, the AV referendum is a classic case. I would agree with you about the need for a review of the electoral system. We didn’t get one, though, did we?

  11. Look at all the changes for the sake of change in the education system. Where has that got the pupils?

  12. I am in London at the moment. My brother in law runs a company that provides time-mamangement training to various comapanies. Many of his clients have been on his books for the 15 years that he has been in business. From time to time a company will undergo management changes and a new head of Human Resources will come along and implelemnt changes. He will be told that the client no longer needs his services as they have decided to bring training back in-house or they are going for a web-based solution or they are trying some other alternative. After a year or two, the client will come back to him, sometimes as a result of another change of management or as a result of the realisation that the wrong decision had been made. The point is that while change must sometimes be made, it should not be made purely for the sake of it. But that is so often what new managers will do. They want to make their mark. New brooms do not always sweep clean, they just sweep differently.

    What must be carried out on a regular basis is a review of exisiting systems. I think of the arrogance IBM in the 1980s and 90s and how it never condsidered the threat from tiny companies such as Microsoft and Apple. IBM experienced a serious wobble in the mid 90s havinge been ‘Big Blue’ for decades. Because it was not yet broke it saw no need to fix things. But that was very nearly its undoing at the hands of its competitors.

    A review of the voting system was perhaps justified even though there is no real threat to British democracy. The current system has worked for centuries. Civil war is not about to break out as a result of the First past the post method. Unless the benefits for change were so clear cut and so obvious then it shouold never have been put to the vote. The same applies to the House of Lords as was. That was an example of change for change’s sake (i.e. to bolster the position of Blair and Brown) and nobody has come up with a better alternative. Nor are they likely to.

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