Speeches you never hear at a corporate conference: “….. Our Transformation Programme is going to be small and imperfect. We are going to do many small things that probably won’t work straight away.’ — Chris Bolton
In the early 1960s, a New York housewife named Jean Nidetch began a weekly meeting with friends at her home to talk about their issues with dieting. She was a ‘cookie addict’ who had struggled for years to lose weight through a succession of fad diets.
Her weekly meetings helped her lose nearly 10kg in a year. So successful was her personal transformation that she turned the gatherings into a programme and ultimately a company — called Weight Watchers.
This began the commercialisation of dieting, creating a worldwide industry expected to be worth 245 billion dollars by 2022
The idea behind most of those diets is straightforward and obvious: eat fewer calories and you will lose weight.
But that’s not what actually happened: instead the diet trend coincided with mass weight gain and the beginnings of the obesity epidemic.
According to research, most dieters will regain almost all of what they lose — which is why the typical dieter tries a new bright and shiny personal transformation plan four times a year.
Change fails, try a new approach, spend more money.
A few weeks ago I wrote The Big Problem With Change Programmes — my most popular post for a year. It drew a lot of responses and messages. Here’s a selection:
“There’s a sense of complete deja vu — we’ve been here before and because the last one didn’t work it’s hard for even the most positive of us to be excited.”
“Change programmes are an industrialized construct and, as such, they are rarely culturally insightful because they often fail to get under the skin of the deep issues around how a group of people adapts and changes.”
” Our organisation are doing ‘change theatre’ — spending a lot of money on consultants helping us address things that will change the organisation as little as possible. The big complex issues are being ignored.”
The common theme — hired help brought in every few years to sort things out — is well illustrated by Ian Watt who describes regular ‘corporate convulsions’ that fail to transform anything — as predictably as a January diet.
Does Big Consultancy Really Work?
One of the reasons it’s hard to evaluate the relative success of change programmes is very few organisations share what actually happened, how much they spent, and almost none share which ones failed.
Similarly, the use of big consultancy is shrouded in mystery.
According to the main industry body in the UK, the Management Consultancies Association (MCA), for every £1 spent on consulting fees, you can expect £6 in return.
What if consultancy is actually making you more inefficient?
NHS yearly expenditure on management consultants almost doubled from £313 million in 2010 to £640 million in 2014.
The study shows that in some cases spending on management consultants did improve efficiency, but overall consulting use generated inefficiency, thus making the financial situation of clients worse.
Although the inefficiencies were relatively small it doesn’t take into account the amount of money paid to consultants and — perhaps more importantly — the huge amounts of time and resource involved.
It notes that NHS organisations have been either unable or unwilling to engage in the formal evaluation of management consulting, resulting in an absence of ‘rigorous, peer reviewable, transparent data’.
The study also highlights the active role of management consultants in pushing services when there is no need for them. Change for the sake of change.
Perhaps — as Chris Bolton has written — we should instead be seeking minimum viable transformation, and change should be small and imperfect:
“Most Transformation Programmes are about BIG ideas (and BIG language), where there is little room for failure.”
These corporate convulsions are little more than crash diets, where the weight is almost certainly going to pile back on.
At Bromford as part of our programmeOne approach, we’ve taken time to look at the case for change, redesigning all 31 service areas and mixing larger-scale transformation with small-scale experimentation.
Part of that included a lot of time spent looking at why previous attempts hadn’t worked and getting deeper into problem definition. As David Anderton has said that means convincing your organisation that you’re not that special, and not creating bespoke solutions for problems that don’t exist. We only need change where it makes a tangible difference to customers.
Amazon, so we are told, have never had a change programme.
Just as a permanent lifestyle change is a flexible, ongoing process that involves body, mind and spirit — so changing an organisation is a journey without end and not a fixed point ‘transformation’.
Originally published at paulitaylor.com on March 12, 2018.