by Chris Potts

“The appearance of change can be the enemy of real change”

Aug 19, 20082 mins
IT Leadership

An observation about government politics in The Times yesterday might equally be true of business. However, investing in the appearance of change may be either the friend or enemy of real change…

I had lunch yesterday with Tom Graves, who has written and self-published books on business management, and other subjects such as water dowsing (our conversation was mainly about the former!). We met in London, in the cafe underneath St Martin-in the Fields church on Trafalgar Square. On the train, I read The Times and in the Leader articles saw the above quote, so with Tom’s permission made it one of the topics that he and I discussed.

It’s an angle that seems worth exploring, at least in conversation and probably in the numbers, too. How much of your organisation’s total investment in change is going on real change, and on the appearance of change?

It seems there should be a healthy balance between the two, and often they should be ‘friends’ rather than ‘enemies’. An organisation would often be under-exploiting the value of a change, for example in terms of Brand and reputation, if it didn’t also invest in making the benefits of that change apparent to people, both externally and within the organisation. Equally, it would be a high-risk strategy to knowingly invest in creating the appearance – or illusion – of change without actually making that change real.

More subtly, though, if an organisation is investing in what appears to be a change, but in reality nothing really changed, then the benefits of that investment will fall well short of what’s expected.

The Times’ leader article was headed Moving the Deckchairs, almost certainly a reference to the saying ‘moving the deckchairs on the Titanic” (but also to the fact that UK politicians are returning from their summer break). Most organisations are not the metaphorical Titanic, and most changes that they invest in have more substance than moving deckchairs.

But to borrow the ship analogy, what if we invested in replacing the boilers with shiny new ones, only to find the ship went no faster, cost about the same to run and didn’t make passengers any happier? Did anything really change?