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Run the Business / Change the Business - Dual Perspective Proves Key to Success

Aug 17, 2007
Change management is a lot like artificial heart transplant surgery: A crucial surgical objective during the implantation of an artificial heart is to keep the patient alive while the surgery is going on. Not exactly a minor detail!

Actually, keeping the patient alive turns out to be a pretty complicated process; it requires very special machinery that has been developed and tested over many years. In fact, there may be more patents on the stay-alive-during-surgery technology than on the artificial heart itself!

When we implement change, we use two kinds of technology as well; in this case the first technology is the body of knowledge - or expertise - associated with the change, which is analogous to the artificial heart. Let's assume that the change in which we are interested in implementing is Process Management. In this example, we would need the Process Management body of knowledge which we are implementing (implanting) in the organization (patient).

The second technology is analogous to the surgical procedure. It is our Change Management system. And like our surgical procedure, it has the dual objectives of changing the business (implanting the heart) and running the business (keeping the patient alive during the procedure).

No change initiative (like Process Management) occurs in a vacuum. The initiative must necessarily go on while the organization is "staying alive," doing its "day job" of producing products, serving customers, collecting monies, and so on... in order to make a profit for share/stakeholders.

While in most cases there will be a number of moving parts to a full-blown run-the-business / change-the-business system, simple examples do exist. Imagine a senior executive team that meets every Monday. They might use the morning session to focus only on run-the-business issues (e.g., progress toward financial targets, status on actions to fix customer upsets, manufacturing breakdowns, etc.) In the afternoon they might focus only on change-the-business issues - like our Process Management implementation (e.g., who are the next managers to receive training, what is the progress on the pilot project in each department, how far along is the task force that is mapping core processes, how far along is HR in designing an incentive compensation system that supports Process Management, etc.).

The regular practice of the two executive meetings each Monday becomes a rudimentary "management system" that provides focus and balance to both running and changing the business. This simple but powerful idea can be extremely valuable to organizations trying to implement change because it moves their thinking from an unconscious "change the business OR run the business" to a conscious "change the business AND run the business."

It takes heroic leadership to maintain this duality. Daily temptation lurks everywhere...

* "Let's cancel the afternoon meeting; we don't need it. We had a good change-the-business session two weeks ago."

* "We really need the time this Monday afternoon to get to the details of the current customer problem in the southern region."

Just as a heart patient makes a heroic decision to permit the implanting of an artificial heart, we need executive leadership at the very top making the heroic decisions the organization needs to stay the course of organizational change.

Senior executives must make the decision to lead a fully-committed change effort, providing the personal "in front of the troops" presence and direction, to provide the needed resources and organizational time... while continuing to run the business on a daily basis in order to meet or exceed the year's business goals.
About the Author
Get a free copy of the 250-page change manifesto Change is the Rule: Free Change Management Book

Dutch Holland and Gary Skarke are principals of Holland & Davis, specializing in helping clients implement change.
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