Organisations that fail to evolve in time are doomed to failure, so why don’t they change?
My theory – and it’s backed by physics – is that they don’t, because momentum trumps trajectory. In other words, an organisation’s current direction – whether that’s advantageous or disadvantageous – has a huge amount of inertia, so that it becomes almost impervious to efforts to optimally change direction.
Newton proved this in his First Law of Motion, which states that a body will continue on its path unless there is sufficient force to make it change direction. It’s something I experienced first-hand when flying the Harrier in the Royal Air Force while weaponeering with rockets. At times, in a dive attack on the weapons range, I would ‘jink’ (slam the rudder) at the last second to slew the nose, shift direction within the Head Up Display (HUD), to see if the rockets would head off target. But the momentum of the dive meant they simply snapped back and followed their original path.
I observe a similar pattern in conventional organisational change initiatives, where the leadership seeks to change the trajectory of the business, but the status quo remains stubbornly in place. That’s because there is an assumption that running workshops, focus groups and internal branding exercises with their people will do the job (trajectory). But that only fires up short-lived motivation, because cultural dynamics are incredibly sticky and overridingly habit forming (momentum). It simply reverts to type. McKinsey and Co have written extensively on this topic in the Context of digital transformation. Its well worth reading their work from Jan 2018.
Is there a solution? Yes. You need to reconfigure the masses within the organisation so that they’re all on board, bought in and become part of a larger force that redirects the entire organisation. That takes around 18 months of a concerted mass movement to irrevocably shift momentum.
Guy Martin is the founder & Managing Director of Blueprints: assisting CEOs to drive growth by increasing the alignment of their people to business goals by 50% within an 18 month period. www.blueprints.co.za