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Change – Good, Bad, or Just Different?

 It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. 

Author unknown, commonly misattributed to Charles Darwin

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In today’s business world, change is inevitable – new technologies, new products/services, new processes, and new markets regularly drive changes in the way that organisations are staffed, structured and operated.  Additionally, the environment in which an organisation operates, in terms of the political landscape, government policies and legislation, or industrial frameworks, can force or inhibit organisational change.   No matter how solid an organisation’s management, production, customer service, or market share, externally imposed change, particularly if unexpected, can significantly impact a company’s operations and bottom line.  As the world around your business is continually changing, your business must also change, or it may stagnate in, fall behind, or be consumed by, the market. 

For an organisation to effectively respond to change, it needs to anticipate, plan for, and control that change, rather than merely reacting passively to it, or worse, not reacting at all.  By being prepared, rather than caught off guard, a business can ride the wave of change rather than be dumped by it.  However, this is easy to say, but in today’s environment of uncertainty and instability, much harder to achieve.

Take, for example, the Federal Government’s recent decision to abolish the Commercial Ready program, a decision which has shaken the biotechnology industry.  The Commercial Ready program, launched in 2004, was a competitive merit-based grants program supporting innovation and commercialisation by providing grants of between $250,000 and $5 million to small- and medium-sized businesses, many in the biotech industry.

While the Government claims that abolishing the program will save $700 million over four years, industry experts point instead to the $1.4 billion lost to investment in innovation and commercialisation, factoring in the matching of private investment to government grants.  Furthermore, companies who had recently submitted a grant application, or were in the process of completing one, are realising that their efforts have been for nought, unless the Government can be lobbied to reverse its decision, or at least reconsider the date of effect to allow current and pending applications to be assessed.

Organisations will respond to the axing of Commercial Ready in different ways – some may seek alternative grants or investors for their projects, some may take their operations offshore to reduce overheads and expenses, some may downgrade the scale of their projects to accommodate reduced funding, and some may give up on their projects altogether.  One could argue that any of these responses could be detrimental to innovation, commercialisation and growth in the Australian biotech industry.  However, perhaps there are alternative responses?

Before deciding on the best response to any change, there are a number of questions to be asked and answered:

·         Is change required? (or being imposed regardless?)  If so, what type of change/s, and to what?

  • Who will own and drive the change process? (or, if externally imposed, who will own and drive the change response?)  Who else needs to be on board?
  • Who are the other stakeholders?  How will these parties be affected by, and respond to, the change/s?
  • What has the organisation’s past experience of change been?  And what about the owners/drivers, participants and other stakeholders?  Has their previous experience of change been positive, negative, or neutral?

·         What resistance, and how much, should be anticipated?  How can that resistance be overcome/minimised?

·         Given the organisational structure and culture, how should the business consult and/or communicate with its members, encourage and facilitate participation in the change process, and manage the implementation and review of that process?

In the above example of the abolition of the Commercial Ready program and its impact on many Australian biotech companies, some of these questions are not as relevant as others, or have already been answered by circumstances outside those companies’ control.  However, even in the case of undesirable and externally imposed change, there are still choices in how and how quickly an organisation responds.  In the words of Viktor Frankl, who survived the Holocaust and six months in Türkheim concentration camp, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

So, if your business is affected by the abolition of the Commercial Ready program or other externally imposed pressures or threats, how are you responding to change?

 

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By Trevor Neville, Principal, and Kirsten Ferguson (Human Resource Management Consultant), TranZition Professional and Executive Recruitment, Level 3 Waterfront Place, 1 Eagle Street, Brisbane Qld 4000. Email: trevor@tranzition.com.au  Web: www.tranzition.com.au 

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