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Disruption in Change

By Nuno Falé, Partner

Human nature does not react well to change and more so to disruptive change. It means rapid and radical change, and change takes people out of their comfort zone. Just have a look around your workplace and notice that the typical the reaction you will see is resistance. Nothing is more difficult or more uncertain than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.

Some companies had adopted some “techniques” and approached to make “Change” possible:

  1. Be paranoid

Changing must be less painful than not changing. Therefore, the pain of not changing must be clear to all and it must be a hot topic at all times. An organization that wants to inculcate continuous improvement needs to capture accurate customer and competitor information and share it widely. Leaders need to demonstrate that they value high customer satisfaction. The gap between current performance and what is needed to win must be always visible to everyone.

“The prime responsibility of a leader is to guard constantly against competitor “attacks” and to inculcate this guardian attitude in the people under his/her management …

“I worry about competitors. I worry about other people figuring out how to do what we do better or cheaper, and displacing us with our customers.” – Andy Grove, CEO of Intel.


  1. Encourage process experiments

Most people have both an impulse to do what is familiar and comfortable, and an impulse towards novelty and challenge. In many organizations, when pushing into new territory that would be challenging, organizations are too quick:

  • To punish imperfect results
  • Too reluctant to reward and celebrate people trying new things
  • Too unimaginative to help people see how some of what they have mastered needs to remain even while trying new things.

Many organizations are only interested in short-term performance. It is not that performance does not /should not matter, but there is also the need to have some margin for experimentation, that may not always lead to the right results.

To overcome objections to the expense and riskiness of the innovation process, it should be advanced through fast, inexpensive, and flexible experiments. The focus should not be on permission for resources, but rather permission to behave differently. Failure and iterative learning should be built into the improvement process. Ideas should progress through stages of a lab (develop and test in a simulated environment), to a pilot (a small test in the real world to prove and evolve the concept), and once it is proved it works, to rollout (“global” implementation).

Google demonstrates many of the ideal practices that can weave innovation and disruption into a company’s fabric. One key approach is “20% Time” (also called “Innovation Time Off”) that encourages Google engineers to spend 20% of their work time (one day per week in theory, usually weekends or evenings in practice) on projects that interest them. Many of Google’s services, such as Gmail, Google News, Orkut, and AdSense originated from these independent endeavours. The real value of “20% Time” is not the time, but rather the license it gives Google workers to do things that they are passionate about pursuing.


  1. Embrace change as an opportunity for learning.

To overcome the pain of disruption from process innovation, changes must be seen as opportunities for learning. People will embrace change if it makes them feel more effective and is brought about with their active participation. When the path is unclear, people become reluctant and the way must be discovered with many interactions. Leaders need to provide vision and engage with frontline workers in joint problem solving. Frontline workers need empowerment to address problems with a minimum of bureaucracy.

Toyota selects its people for their openness to learning, and then develop their work habits through practice after they are hired. All managers are expected to be involved in process improvement and adaptation. Problems are welcomed as ways to help understand why things go wrong. People are told not to blame, but to be hard with the process, not with people.


The value of these techniques ad approached is that they all contribute to reducing the difficulty, peril, and uncertainty of change. They make it easier not only for employees to engage in it, but to engage continuously and to establish continuous improvement as the norm.


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