Lasting change from the inside

As my dear Mum used to say: “If you want something done, do it yourself!”

I’m not sure I completely agree with this, as you will probably need a team, need to influence some other people, and take them all along with you. You can’t do it all on your lonesome.

But there’s a kernel of truth there. It’s easy to whinge, from the outside, and criticise. It’s much harder to go in and try and fix something yourself. Yet, that’s what things need sometimes. A fresh approach. New eyes.

Fixing things that bug you, can be a strong motivational force.

This can drive startup founders, turnaround experts, charity workers, new CEOs, board members, investors, sports coaches and others that want to go in, and make a lasting difference.

It’s the system

Sounds good so far. The new recruit, flush with motivational zeal, sets to work inside the organisation, eyes bright with promise and energy.

Within a short while, they discover why the situation is as it is, and what has held the organisation back from change up to now.

Change can be confronting for some, especially those already in the organisation, that have been used to how it’s always been. Change is unsettling. Change is, after all, change. People like things the way they are, they’ve become used to them, even if they realise they’re not as great as they could be. Better the devil you know…?

If culture is best described as “how things are done around here” (I may add “…when they think no one is looking”), then this can often explain how and why people behave like they do, their norms and standards, how hard they work (or not), when they start and leave work, and what they will happily accept, “walk past” or rail against.

Allied to people used to how things are, existing systems (technology, hardware, software… ) and processes (meetings, permissions, bureaucratic norms…) are the backbone of the organisation, how it does things and communicates. These systems can also explain how efficiently tasks are completed (or not), by whom, and how information is communicated (well, poorly, or not), lost, diverted, stored or distorted.

With siloed departments, information and warring tribes (“Hey, that’s my area, not yours!”), gaining agreement on what needs changing, how that best be implemented, and then accepted as the new way… can be challenging.

Wading into all this, our brave change warrior may very well experience significant inertia, push back and, in some cases, downright rebellion. A good degree of charm, diplomacy and listening skills are required along with a heavy dose of patience, persistence and persuasion.

Change can come

It’s not all hopeless, young Jedi. Find your fellow champions, try small things to start with, get some early wins, and celebrate them. As more people become used to the improved results, realise the sun will still come up tomorrow, resistance may melt away and some will even jump on board. Momentum will build.

A few years go by, and you’ll find that – although it may have felt tortuous wading through all that treacley resistance – there’s actually been a lot of change. It’s been worth it, and now, partly thanks to the in-built inertia of systems, processes and people, what once slowed you down now helps to lock in and embed the changes.

These changes can even last long after you depart… until someone new sees something that now needs fixing, and rushes in to change it.

About the author

20+ years in Perth’s business, tech, media and startup sectors, from founder through to exit, as CEO, mentor, advisor / investor, and in federal and state government. Originally an economics teacher from the UK, working in Singapore before arriving in Perth in 1997 to do an MBA at UWA. Graduating as top student in 1999, Charlie co-founded, running it for 10+ years before selling to REIWA, to run In 2013, moved to Business News, became CEO, then worked on the Australian government’s Accelerating Commercialisation program. In 2021, helped set up and launch The Property Tribune, and was awarded the Pearcey WA Entrepreneur of the Year (at the 30th Incite Awards). In 2022, he became Director Innovation, running the 'New Industries Fund' at the Department of Jobs, Tourism, Science and Innovation (JTSI).

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