Fitness and corporate change has a lot in common. Changing your fitness level, your looks and body composition, becoming more flexible or learning to do a handstand. All have one thing in common. It takes effort, time and patience (granted, sometimes not as much effort as trainers want you to believe, god forbid you would think you could do it on your own), but it does take work for sure.
Below a quote from the website of my favorite trainer, Andrew Read in Melbourne. It’s about fitness obviously, but how many words would you have to change in order to make this apply to Corporate change and transformation instead?
We have six-minute abs—because everyone knows that seventh minute is a waste of time. We have Dry July—because everyone knows that not drinking for a month will help the next forty years of your life. And we have crazy restriction diets that resemble torture. None of it is sustainable.
And the truth of the matter—that no one in the fitness world wants to tell you—is that none of that matters. Every single workout plan you read touting the best exercises for [insert body part here]? Worthless. Every single meal plan that claims that [insert magical superfood or supplement here] is the best thing for you? Also worthless.
The only things that count are those that create sustainable changes. And the problem with sustainable change is that it isn’t sexy, and you can’t sell a six-week workout plan off the back of it. For that you need to sensationalize everything and scream about your special, secret, new method of training.
6 minute abs and a restrictive diet
In corporate speak this is the equivalent of a “3-week baseline and an FTE analysis” to find areas to cut cost (which is the goal of most transformations even if it is rarely stated clearly). The result is the same, something the resembles torture and that is not sustainable. A client of mine (while at Deloitte), was determined to shorten the close from 5 days to 3 days. A hard push and then… Mission accomplished. The problem was just that the solution was a bit like torture for many involved (i.e. accounting puts 5 days of work into 3 days). Not as sustainable when the accountants started to resign.
A new workout plan
Corporate speak for a new workout plan is a to reshape the operating model, kick off a digital transformation or maybe we need to implement some finance business partnering (because these days we all need to be FBPs, who would want to be an accountant?). It has to be something special, secret and new in order for a consultant to sell a 6 week engagement on the back of it, right? Things need to be “sensationalizing” in order to be interesting. Problem is, most of it is not. Just like learning to do a front split, it takes effort, time and patience. Problem is these things are not sexy. Not at all. What do you mean you will improve over time? We need step-change here!
Don’t get me wrong, step change and ambitious goals are not a bad thing. But if your undertaking involves changing peoples behavior and the culture of “how we do things around here”, throwing more headcount at it and setting a tighter timeline may not be a sustainable approach.
It would be interesting to use Andrew Read’s training mantra below on a corporate change effort and see what happens. No 6-12 month transformation effort with milestones, just a long-term goal and an ongoing commitment from all involved to:
- Turn up
- Don’t complain
- Never quit