Faster Does Not Always Equal Better

Ideally, the pace of any change would be limited only by logistics. In the private sector, opportunities are often taken advantage of as fast as the organization can acquire the right skills and execute. But in the public sector individuals need to balance the rate of change with the organization's ability to keep pace. If change exceeds the natural rate of the organization, its individuals will lack the ability to 'consume' the changes, resulting in increased apprehension and possibly revolt.

The introduction of new concepts and potential changes are ideally paced at a speed where individuals are allowed time to adjust, but no slower than is necessary for this to occur. Adapting too slowly creates different kinds of risks, both organizationally as well as professionally, ranging from an inability to meet or comply with certain requirements or simply being seen as personally ineffectual. As one federal organization attempted to implement a shared services model for human resources for example, the effort’s sponsor specifically held meetings no more often than monthly at the beginning. Although logistically the whole effort could have been completed in sixty days, the sponsor expressed the belief that the only way to ensure agreement and buy-in was to pace the transition so that it purposely took at least six months. He stated that in his almost thirty years in the organization, he noticed that people typically fought change for the first several months no matter how often they met, but after the third month they started getting used to the idea and generally came around. His belief was that people needed time to both think about something as well as accept that it wasn’t going to go away.

There is no explicit formula that dictates the right pace for a given organization or effort. Individuals simply need to be aware of the pace of their efforts to ensure they are moving as fast as they can, but no faster than the organization can handle.

A common sign an effort is exceeding the ideal pace is when growing numbers of individuals both inside and outside the effort increasingly lose track of what's going on or begin to question the effort’s objectives and value. The inability to ‘follow the plot’ as efforts pick up pace can breed apprehension which triggers the risk averse nature of the organization, resulting in a natural desire by the organization and its employees to slow the effort down.

Although the consequences of progressing too slowly are rarer, a common sign an effort is moving too slow is when increasing numbers of individuals begin to question project progress or productivity. If this is occurring, the change leader must evaluate what practical techniques are available to accelerate the pace.

Since many individuals simply don’t contemplate the issues associated with going too fast, they naturally support a faster pace until the organizational ‘noise level’ rises. Being mindful of the organizational noise and the effort’s pace is an important lever for successful incremental change.