Administrative civil servants spend most of their time initiating or implementing change, and Ministers (and the public) often want to see very significant change, despite the frequency with which such programs have been seen to fail - and despite the fact that change is seldom win-win, and the losers will be much more vociferous than the gainers. Even the most promising improvement programs have been confounded by the organisation's culture: that subliminal mix of unspoken behaviours, mindsets, assumptions, motives and social and hierarchical patterns that that permeate every corner of every organisation. People are in effect hard wired to respond to it instinctively and, the more embedded it has become, the more it is resistant to change. Therefore ...
Although every change program has its own characteristics, it is always vital to focus on the 5 Cs – the five key elements of any organisation, none of which can be changed without simultaneously affecting the others:
- Capacity, i.e. resources, and in particular staff numbers;
- Capability (or competence), i.e. staff skills, training, experience and motivation;
- Communications, including not only communications whilst the change program is being implemented, but also new ways of communicating - internally and externally - once the changes have been implemented;
- Culture, new relationships, attitudes to innovation, reward structures etc.;
- Constitution, i.e. organisational structure, reporting lines etc.
Any significant change process must consider the inter-relationship between these five elements, and what all of them – not just one of them – will look like at the end of the process. For instance, cost-cutting via downsizing or de-layering might need to be accompanied by improved training and team-working, employing fewer more highly-qualified (and higher paid) staff, accepting lower service quality, and/or accepting more frequent errors. A failure to think along these lines will mean that the reconfigured organisation will perform markedly less well, and may even return to its former shape when it is forced to reverse some of the change in order to improve its performance.
It follows that it is very difficult to manage change successfully, which is why so many reform and change programs are unsuccessful. That is why there is so much to be said for opting instead for continuous improvement of existing processes and structures, if Ministers and others will be patient enough. Natural staff turnover (often 10-20% pa) can permit rapid cost saving, whilst the experience and commitment of existing staff and customers help managers focus on those areas that need, and will benefit from, urgent improvement. The Japanese manufacturers' use of kaizen (in the UK as well as in Japan) provides a dramatic example of what can be achieved through well-managed continuous improvement.