Campbell Macpherson’s recent book The Change Catalyst is Business Book Of The Year, and my book No Small Change, co-written with Anthony Thomson, isn’t. I therefore have a bit of a cheek challenging something Campbell says.
In a blog about his book on his website, which you can find at http://www.changeandstrategy.com/mission-impossible-leading-change-successful-organisations/, he discusses the practical and emotional obstacles that prevent leaders of highly successful businesses from maintaining the capability to achieve change, and gives some hints on how to overcome them. He strongly believes that these leaders should encourage and empower their colleagues to put forward their own ideas, and the following somewhat edited quote will give a flavour of his recommendations:
“Make continuous improvement a core part of your company’s DNA: Change doesn’t have to be large and disruptive to be effective. The most effective and sustainable changes are often evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Every leadership team needs to help their people to embrace an attitude of continuous improvement – and empower them to act upon it.
Allow your people to (constructively) question the status quo. This is where your newer employees will add the most value. Allow them to (constructively and respectfully) query the way things are done.”
It’s true that these are not his only tips on the subject, and at least one of the others suggests more radical measures. But I do wonder, looking at what’s written here, whether it’s all a bit, well, timid. I think it was that bracketed “constructively and respectfully” that aroused my suspicions. Should employees of Pony Express in the US in the 1860s have “constructively and respectfully” have pointed out that the country’s first transcontinental railroad was about to open and would quickly wipe out most of their business when it did? Should employees of Polaroid in the 1990s have “constructively and respectfully” flagged up a teeny concern that perhaps this digital camera thing might prove a bit of a problem? I could go on, but you get my point.
And anyway, as I say, my point really isn’t a very fair one. Campbell isn’t only suggesting constructive and respectful process-tweaking, and anyway such humble actions do often have their place. On other occasions, though, an expression involving the words “deckchairs” and “Titanic” does come to mind.