A tweet from Michael Carty this morning reminded me of the demotivational slides series which I posted about in this blog’s early days. Despair Inc have added a few more since then. This one is absolutely spot on.
When the winds of change blow hard enough, the most trivial of things can become deadly projectiles.
This is a warning we ignore at our peril. Perhaps the best example of a relatively small but deadly projectile is sub-prime mortgage debt. This paper by Karen Weaver, Deutsche Bank’s former head of securitization research, estimated the total amount of sub-prime default at around $150 billion but once these losses were fed into the world’s complex and highly geared financial system, they triggered a $11.9 trillion financial crisis.
A similar process of contagion can afflict business programmes.
You know how these things go. You’ve just come up with your new world-beating business strategy, a small part of which involves moving a few departments around, and the next thing you know, there is a dispute spiralling out of control because some people in an office you had forgotten about are upset about having to move from the second floor to the third.
I have seen large change programmes come to grief over seemingly trivial things like the removal of free newspapers in the coffee area. The logic, such as it is, goes something like this:
Throughout this process, senior managers have been telling us how we are becoming a knowledge business and that, therefore, people are our greatest asset. Looking after people, developing them and thereby adding to the intellectual power of the company will be key to our success, we are told. So why remove one of the means by which we keep ourselves informed? If they really wanted to nurture and develop us they wouldn’t take our newspapers away. And if they are prepared to do something so penny-pinching, how can we take any of the rest of this stuff about looking after the staff seriously?
Again, we see the process of contagion. Just as sub-prime defaults led to a collapse of confidence in the mortgage securities market, so a seemingly insignificant decision, amplified by the volatility of rapid corporate change, can destroy the confidence the workforce once had in its senior managers.
Rapid and far-reaching change can, like a tornado, give relatively small things enough speed to cause a huge amount of damage. A warning, perhaps, that politicians and senior executives in the public sector should bear in mind. Given that the UK’s public services are about to go through the biggest change in half a century, there could well be some small but deadly projectiles flying about over the next few years.