Can You Smell the Change?
Let's accept that people are not really rational. We all know we probably should drink alcohol less, eat fewer processed foods, cut down on caffeine, take more exercise and, damn it, call our mothers more often. We all know we should do these things to improve our lives and those of others — but we don't.
I'm not sure that organizational change as business as usual is any different. It should be a natural part of our business model as a gradual proactive evolution. (The Japanese have a word for it — kaizen.) Every CEO, whether in a charity or commercial setting, talks about it. But the reality is that most organizations — charities or commercial — find it difficult to adopt that adaptive paradigm.
The commercial world is full of examples of organizations that failed to change. Who now talks fondly of the companies that once seemed to have it made — from Netscape (Internet browsers) to Sinclair (computers)? They all had great "first mover" advantage and then lost it to organizations that were less innovative but smarter and more open to change. Many charities, sadly, seem to have a slow and reactive culture very similar to the slow-moving corporate one.
There are exceptions: I spent some time recently in China with the far-thinking and entrepreneurial Sir Nick Young and his British Red Cross team talking about how to change the International Red Cross Red Crescent Movement for the next decade, and the major restructure of Save the Children International represents a whole new way of working with and engaging supporters. Sadly these examples of far-sighted proactive change are exceptional.
There are lots of great articles and books on how to change, but the key challenge to me is how to spot when to change in that proactive way. As my contribution to sophisticated ideas in management, I've developed a theory that I call the Organizational Olfactory Approach. It involves sniffing the air for signs that things need to change. Check out your own scent sensitivity below.