Change & Innovation

Change is to make different.  Change is a constant in the world.  If everything is working well, change is often the last thing people want to do.  If it is not broken, don’t fix it.  Unfortunately, the lower in the organization we go, the more we find that individuals identify the need for change relative to their position.  Stepping out of the comfort zone is always challenging, especially if it feels like you are going to lose control.

As we discuss Change here, we are not talking about incremental change, especially as occurs in normal quality improvements.  As discussed under the Management area, that type of change should be built into the organization.  Change, as we discuss here, is directed to more transformational change.  A change outside the normal comfort zone.

Unfortunately, the world has a tendency to creep up on us.  All of a sudden, someone has a better idea or someone can go it better, cheaper.  We were not proactive, so we get caught.  Horse drawn carriage companies did not all turn into car manufacturing companies.  Demand evaporates and you lose your assets and your employees lose their jobs.  So change is inevitable and we need to get ahead of it.

Being aware of your environment is critical.  What is currently occurring in your market?  Where are changes occurring?  What are you doing internally to get ahead of the market?  Improvements?  Efficiency?  Have you done a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis?  Much of this should be part of your planning process.  But once you have decided where you are in your environment, how do you decide, then proceed to introduce the change to your organization?  How do you take the next step?

We are going to see change as the introduction of an “innovation”. “An Innovation is an idea, practice or object that is perceived as new by an individual or other unit of adoption”.  The reference is Everett M. Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations, Fifth Edition.  This reference is basically a survey of research into the diffusion of innovation and provides some scientific basis for the recommended approaches.  The objective is to convert the knowledge into actionable items, based on years of experience.  The steps will be provided with further information supporting those steps.  A discussion of how adoption occurs can be found at Innovation Adoption Curve.

To distinguish “Change” from “Innovation”, “Change” is what can be instituted or imposed on a situation with or without your control.  “Innovation” is what you implement based on you initiations and actions.  Innovations may also be looked upon as “solutions“.

(Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay )

Reasons for Change

Various reasons may exist for making a change:

  • Maintaining a competitive advantage
  • Release of an innovation on the market that will improve your operations
  • Issues with customer satisfaction
  • General desire to continually improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your operations
  • Realignment of an organization
In general, it will be important that the reason for the change be identified since it will assist in identifying the innovation that might be used and improve the acceptance of that innovation into the culture.

Change Roles

Change Roles
Change Roles

There can be a number of roles that get filled as part of the Change Process:

  • Champion – “A charismatic individual who throws his or her weight behind an innovation, thus overcoming indifference or resistance that the new idea may provoke in an organization.”  The person monitors the success of the innovation, including budget and resources.  Generally, the person ensures the success of the endeavor.  Champions are generally management that are high enough in the organization that the organization feels there is a commitment to the change’s success.  For major changes, this may be Corporate Management.   For a well integrated team, it may be the Team Leader.  The person has to be able to establish that the change is going to occur and be sustained.
  • Change Agent – “An individual who influences clients’ innovation decisions in a direction deemed desirable by a change agency.”  The Change Agent is the individual that is intended to implement the change.  That person has several roles:
    1. Develop a need for change – Helps the client identify the need for change as well as identify some alternatives. 
    2. Establish an information exchange relationship – Develop lines of communications.  Change Agent needs to be seen as competent and understanding the environment and develop a rapport with the various parts of the organization.
    3. Diagnose problems – Identify why current solutions are not working and why they do not work.
    4. Create an intent to change in the client –  Develop some motivation within the organization to make the change.
    5. Translate an intent into action – Align actions with needs.  Develop some internal motivation for the change, including an internal network to reinforce the desire to proceed.
    6. Stabilize adoption and prevent discontinuance – Develop an approach for sustaining the action and stabilize the change.
    7. Achieve a terminal relationship – Develop self-sustaining mechanisms that will ensure the organization continues the progress without the Change Agent.

Attributes of a Successful Innovation

Roger’s Diffusion of Innovation identifies five attributes for the successful diffusion of a innovation:

  1. Relative advantage – the perceived advantage of the innovation over the current process.  If participants and stakeholders see the innovation as a significant improvement, the acceptability will be higher.
  2. Compatibility – the perceived consistency with the existing values, past experiences, and needs of potential adopters. The better the perceived compatibility the greater the willingness to accept the innovation.
  3. Complexity – the greater the perception of difficulty, the less the acceptance.
  4. Trialability – the ability to play with the innovation increases the acceptability of the the innovation.
  5. Observability – Remembering that there needs to be a transition over time for the innovation, the ability for the innovation to be observed increases the probability of acceptance.
These attributes provide the ability to increase or decrease the probability of success given a potentially successful innovation.  These attributes also strongly imply the need for openness and communication.  This rolls into cultural variables:
  1. type of innovation-decision – whether the decision-making is collective or authoritative.
  2. nature of communication channels – are they forms that are used by the needed audience and are effective and efficient for the task at hand.
  3. nature of the social system – multi-disciplinary teams will generally assist in propagating an innovation more effectively.  Smoke stack organizations generally have a more difficult time with communication.
  4. extent of change agents’ promotion efforts –  the effectiveness of the Change Agent with handling cross-role, cross-organizational communication will greatly influence the results.