Five stages of change maturity

Great change is long lived…And just like great wine (or indeed shoes), it has a maturation process.

Today’s Australian Financial Review (18/10/19) notes that RM Williams the Aussie manufacturer of a very small and highly valued range of boots, is doubling capacity partly due to the younger generation spurning the throwaway approach of ‘fast fashion’.  A few months ago I bought my first pair of RM Williams boots chosen for last and because they feel unbelievable on my feet.  The sales process was minimal.  The assistant let the shoes speak for themselves.

The company has spent seemingly eons perfecting their craft.  Mature and proud of their offerings, they have navigated the trend to throw away, staying resolutely focused on their core offering, and remain profitable in a sector that has otherwise died in Australia.

Managing change has likewise suffered the tendency to go for fast fix. Practitioners have increasingly touted workshops and processes that promise rapid results. Money changed hands, time was invested, but like the email schemes offering quick riches without much effort, fulfilled promises were often short lived. Successful leaders have learnt that long lasting change takes time.

Five stages of change maturity*

Change occurs at the right time, when the environment, resources and effort are conducive. Although it can be encouraged the route cannot be forced. Companies go through stages in their change maturity just like the rest of life.

  1. Stage one (infancy). Change is managed through ad hoc projects. Maybe one or two a year, driven by need. Distractions are high and success rates are low.
  2. Stage two (the teenage years) is when greater demands and increasing knowledge create more projects. Some will be successfully implemented others will encounter resistance (silent or noisy) as trial and error pushes boundaries in ways unexpected.
  3. Stage three (early adulthood). Changing by trials and errors is beginning to be replaced by systems.  Savvy leaders will have learnt what works and what doesn’t. Planning is more robust and seen as an investment that can give high returns. Problems are expected, though habits of continuous improvement are still to be made. Success rates improve considerably
  4. Stage four (adulthood). Planning is now a regular formal process. Systems are entrenched throughout the organisation. The company feels in control of its improvement processes, but like a micro manager who tries to control all those around her, standardisation risks making everything average. The see-saw of control and independence can move too far in one direction.
  5. Stage five (Maturity). Systems have become habits and applied as a matter of course. Good judgement adjusts behaviour to suit the situation. Decisions are made insitu with sensitivity to people, organisational priorities, and the future ramifications.  Much like our frequency of teeth brushing is adjusted when we get a poppy seed smack bang between our front teeth our change systems adapt to situations: financial meltdown, great opportunity, angry client and so on. 

Change maturity is not automatic

Like a human, a company can reach a stage and not progress.  There is no biological clock that forces a company through its stages.  It can reach a level, lose impetus, and wallow.  But you can guarantee that sooner or later a crisis will appear that will either force it to move up…or out. It is so much easier if change is encouraged rather than forced. Just like a child will learn easier in a school environment, so will change be easier when a structure is in place.

When a company reaches its wise maturity, it has travailed a bumpy ride, celebrating wins and losses in a way that builds resilience, hope and ability. Such results come through through consistent effort, reflection, persistence and compassion wrought through experience. It takes time.

Companies that seek maturity seek consultants who likewise have wisdom:  Wisdom doesn’t come with age, but with attitude, curiosity and deep experience of hardships, joy and failures, (though age does provide more failures, joys and successes to experience, so it helps).

So as you seek to take your company forward contemplate the maturation level your company seeks to attain as well as its current situation, wants, opportunities and needs. Then choose a provider to suit.  

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*Prompted by the Prosci Change Maturity Model


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Jennifer is a business and executive coach who helps leaders turn strategy into results using the wisdom of the heart.  To find out how she can help you, call +61 439 520 182 or email.