Archive for October, 2013

NO RUNNING AWAY FROM CHANGE

Posted: October 24, 2013 in Uncategorized
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ABOUT a decade ago, “change management” or just “change” was the biggest buzzword after the advent of ICT and the emergence of a globalised and inter-connected economy.

There was another great buzzword at that time – the “information super highway”. And about a decade before that, in the late eighties, when the environment was a major global concern, especially in the developed west and when big business was seen as a main cause of Mother Nature’s degradation, the buzzword then was “sustainable business development”.

In fact, change management is so important and general that it encompasses both the developments of ICT, internet and social media, globalisation and environmental conservation, some of the biggest change issues of the new century.

But somehow, the term “change management” seems to be losing its lustre lately with not much publicly spoken or written about it nowadays. Many people seem to accept that “change” is normal and so what’s the fuss about it?

Perhaps more glaring is the general acceptance that we do not need to make significant changes in our organisation or to improve ourselves.

Another common view is that change can be fearful and bring uncertainty, so we should be careful and not to “rock the boat” in bringing changes to the organisation concerned unless we are absolutely convinced of the need to do so.

Perhaps the original concept about change management was not fully understood or taken lightly to mean something of no importance to the survival or progress of an organisation. What’s the real meaning of “change management”?

Like many common misconceptions, let’s start by stating what it is not. It’s not about change for the sake of change. It’s not about negative or retrogressive change because having no change is better than a negative change. It’s not about changing to please some people or to whitewash the poor performance of a business or public entity.

Change management is actually a strategic management outlook or attitude that accepts the reality that the world is constantly changing (whether we like it or not) and in order to survive, stay competitive or to perform better, we need to change positively. Or we would be left behind, lose out or be destroyed or rot or decay into oblivion.

Change can also be a personal challenge for one to continuously improve his or her knowledge, skills and outlook and to learn how to deal with all kinds of personal issues, relationships and crises.

The concept of change is not new. In most religions, there are some stories or tenets which promote the idea directly or indirectly the need to adapt or change in a new environment. Even the phrase “when in Rome, do as the Romans do” suggests the need to change in a new environment.

But the urgency and importance of change have become more compelling in the new and emerging era of globalisation and regionalisation (Asean, for example) and with the development of “game-changer” technologies which change the way we do business, govern, work, entertain, exercise, commute and live.

Making positive but “disruptive” changes is never easy, especially in a cozy, spoilt and complacent environment when all still appears relatively well and the earth under our feet has not moved yet. The problem is most people only recognise the need to change when it’s too late or when the price involved is very high.

The “trick” is to be alert and pro-active and see the coming trend when the signs are there. It then requires intelligence and courage for the leaders of the organisation concerned to then take decisive action to change and communicate the need to make changes to all stakeholders.

With globalisation and “Aseanisation” (where our country is concerned), the forces of change are sweeping through the region whether we can see them (some may be invisible) or not. One positive aspect of it is the compelling case to change ourselves to be more multi-cultural in outlook.

Being pro-multicultural does not mean one is not proud of or has to give up his or her culture or religion. It’s about accepting and respecting other cultures, seeing the beauty and strengths in diversity and knowing how to promote and bond the commonalities and goodness of all cultures.

The defining moments of mankind are the developments of culture and game-changer technologies and a growing recognition that the only way we can survive collectively and live peacefully in this world is to change humanity’s outlook to be truly multicultural.

The Asean Economic Community (AEC) is set to roll out in December 2015 (Malaysia chairs Asean in January 2015) and this would definitely (whether we like it or not) be a significant step forward to the long-term integration of the very diverse multicultural people of Asean (like Europe). In such a situation, the ultra-nationalistic, chauvinist or racialist elements in Asean countries would increasingly be isolated and out of sync and may even be considered “heretic” within the new Asean community.

Many such extreme elements in Asean (and globally) are still refusing to change their outlook and are reacting to changes to the world around them as though they know that their skewed, unjust and distorted ideas are increasingly incompatible with the silent majority, who are becoming more open-minded and well informed from the ethnicity perspective.

This may be a good sign that their days of influence may be numbered and the new “moderates” who professed a truly multicultural outlook are eventually taking over the world. This would be a new version of the “End of History” and not the same westernised model of a liberal society as predicted by political scientist Francis Fukuyama.

The world is moving forward as a whole and whether we like it or not, business is becoming more competitive and corporate or public governance is also becoming more accountable, transparent and demanding. And whether we like it or not, staff, customers, stakeholders and voters are becoming more educated, well-informed (with information available at the speed of light), discerning and demanding.

Therefore, the need for productive creativity and innovation (the best kind of change) is greater than ever to meet the higher expectations of the stakeholders and the public.

To change (progressively) or not to change can be a matter of “life and death” for many businesses, trade and professional bodies, political parties, NGOs and public organisations including governments. The greatest challenge for all is learning HOW to change for the better and having the conviction and commitment to do so before it’s too late.

The writer is the CEO of a think-tank and strategic PR and management consultancy firm based in Kuala Lumpur. He is also the concept developer of a regional and multicultural heritage project to be based in Kuala Lumpur. He can be contacted at kktan@thesundaily.com

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