Knowing When to Change

Great by Choice

Great by Choice

It is the time of year when we are aligning budgets and strategic plans across our organization in anticipation of the new fiscal year.  Some look at these times in an organization’s year and instinctively call for changes in practice, following the dictate that change is hard, and yet necessary.

In their work Great by Choice, authors Jim Collins (of Good to Great fame) and Morten T. Hansen tackle this question by looking at differences in how very successful (what they call 10X) companies and a list of comparison organizations change their basic operating practices over time.  They found that the 10X companies had clear practices that allowed them – even in times of great disruption – to continue to “do the same thing that you are already doing well, and over and over again.”  The authors explain further by saying,

“Conventional wisdom says that change is hard.  But if change is so difficult, why do we see more evidence of radical change in the less successful comparison cases?  Because change is not the most difficult part.  Far more difficult than implementing change is figuring out what works, understanding why it works, grasping when to change, and knowing when not to.”

I’ve just spent a weekend with several colleagues at our National Trust Council weekend – a time when we gather with some of our most generous financial and programmatic supporters and talk about the work we undertake.  In the course of the weekend, one long-time member – who has watched our work carefully since the early 2000s – told me that our laser-like focus in the last seven years on tackling important issues at national treasures, reimagining the role of historic sites, and deepening our research around the role played by older places in revitalizing cities – is both evident and refreshing.  Too often she saw organizations shift priorities and programs from year-to-year, in search of the next new thing.  She was saying, in essence, that we are figuring out what works, understanding that dynamic, and being very thoughtful about whether or not to change.

This is good advice both for organizations and individuals.  How many of our friends and family members do we know who follow the nearest fad.  Instead of going down that path, let’s strive to do the hard work:  figure out what works, understand why it works, grasp when to change, and know when not to.

Have a good week.

More to come…

DJB

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