Steven's Blog

Change Discipline, Not Management

The currency of discipline is choice, and that choice is yours to make.

Change management is ostensibly a practice to help people in an organization make a transition as a result of a disruptive organization change.

However, disruption need not be disruptive if disruption is part of your discipline.

When was the last time you quit a perfectly good job when you were at the top of your game simply so you could change and grow? In his last column in the New York Times, William Safire wrote that he never continues anything more than seven years so he can make room for himself to continuously grow and change. He resigned from the New York Times while at the top of his game rather than cling to such a prestigious position. How disruptive do you think a lay-off would be to Safire should he ever have to deal with one?

He makes career change a discipline. By discipline, I mean an habitual practice regardless of immediate need or benefit, simply because it is good for you—like exercise and eating well. Discipline often causes immediate and tangible pain for an intangible good. If you don’t believe me, ask anyone who has ever tried to lose a lot of weight.

Career management is an anathema to Safire, who makes a discipline of his career change. Weight management is an anathema to those who make a discipline of their fitness. Discipline always trumps management, and change discipline always trumps change management.

What does organizational change discipline look like?

Have you ever considered simply abandoning fifteen percent of your company’s perfectly viable business every year to make room to create or exploit new opportunities for growth? I know business leaders who do exactly that.

An executive client of mine decided to abandon a longtime key account customer generating significant revenues, not because there is any problem in the relationship or with the business, but simply because she wants to make room to create and exploit other opportunities for growth as a matter of discipline. A CEO I know plans to abandon an entire business line generating hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue and excellent profit for similar reasons. A vice president client of mine abandoned fifty percent of company revenues, to make room for strategic growth. Profits are already up.

Now, imagine how quickly these companies grow and adapt. How disruptive do you think any change might be for people in an organization for whom disruption is merely part of their discipline? How great do you think their need is to manage change in their company?

None of these dramatic changes are or were needed. None of the resulting benefits are or were immediate. Each change causes or caused immediate pain. The good is or was intangible at the outset. Nonetheless, these leaders all pushed change as a matter of discipline.

I shake my head when I hear leaders attempt to persuade those in their organization of the strategic change they propose as a matter of existential imperative. This is not an uncommon practice in change management. Weight loss only becomes imperative after morbidity, the risk of heart attack, and imminent onset of diabetes. Imperatives are the currency of the chronically undisciplined.

Would you like to stop having to manage change?

No matter how undisciplined you have been up to now, it is never too late to start. Click To Tweet

Make change a discipline. Start by asking the following questions:

  1. If you were to abandon fifteen percent or more of profitable business, what business would that be and why?
  2. If you were beginning your business today without concern for the legacy business you have, what would that business be? Is it the same business you have, or something different?
  3. Would you hire the people on your leadership team if they were looking for a job today? Who would you hire instead?

Are these questions provocative? Are the answers confronting and disturbing? Will implementing your answers now do good for the business despite immediate pain and no immediate need?

If so, good! Act on them, and repeat the same regularly—with discipline.


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