"The world is now changing at a rate at which the basic systems, structures, and cultures built over the past century cannot keep up with the demands being placed on them."
When I was a boy I used to hear grown-ups complain about how much and how fast the world was changing. They complained, but they didn’t Tweet it from their iPhones; they didn’t post it on a blog or write a Facebook post. No. They got on the party-line and reminisced about the good-old-days.
A lot has changed, and it is changing more quickly than ever. John Kotter wrote this book because the world changes too quickly for people like me to take our sweet time trying to bring change. The principles here are essentially the same as in his classic book, Leading Change. But implicit in Accelerate: Building Strategic Agility for a Faster-Moving World is Kotter’s experienced admission that mature organizations by their very nature resist change.
Change doesn’t happen in six easy steps. He found that organizations were getting stuck in the machinery of every day work and had no mechanism for changing, let alone for changing quickly. Their hierarchies were choking the life out of change initiatives.
So, in Accelerate he proposes a work-around. Accelerate jimmy-rigs the system. It is a practical approach to implement the practices of Leading Change without taking years to reorganize an organization. We don’t have years! Accelerate is Kotter’s attempt get around job descriptions and the organizational chart so organizations can bring about the change they need.
The Big Idea
Install a Dual Operating System
"This is not a question of ‘either/or.’ It’s ‘both/and’: two systems that operate in concert. A dual operating system."
The essence of the book is to install what he calls a “second operating system.” The first operating system represents the normal structure of the organization, complete with a hierarchical organizational chart, human resources department and well defined job descriptions. It is the structure the organization has matured into after years of effective work. This structure is not easily changed or jettisoned.
The second operating system is the change system. It is a network of employees who “volunteer” for extra work they can clearly see connected to changes they need. These volunteers function like nodes up and down the org chart much like a web. This second system creates an informal network that enables people to do work that really matters apart from, or above and beyond, their job descriptions while impacting the organization from top to bottom.
Seize a Big Opportunity
"Great urgency that drives people in a dozen different directions achieves nothing. The energy that is at the core of accelerated action and dual operating systems is an aligned energy."
All of John Kotter’s books are big on urgency. The key to bringing change, according to him, is to develop a sense of urgency. The main tool in the box to create urgency is to seize a big opportunity. An organization mired in hierarchy will not be easy to light a fire under. The remedy is to find a big opportunity.
He advises readers to create urgency around the Big Opportunity, not around vision. Vision tends to be long term, reflect the hierarchy and frequently carries the tone of “this is our vision and you will make it happen.” He claims this makes people stop when you want them to go.
Big Opportunities come in all kinds of forms and serves the ongoing vision of the organization. He recommends stating it in writing so everyone can sing off the same sheet of music. A statement of the Big Opportunity has the following characteristics: It is short, rational, compelling, positive, authentic, clear and aligned. It may be shorter term than a vision and sustained action can rally around it.
Your Organization Slows with Time
"Silos, levels, rules, short-term plans, and narrow jobs systematically create complacency. And group complacency is an almost unbelievably powerful force."
Not only does the world require faster change, an organization’s ability to generate that change slows down as it ages. An organization older than 10 years has usually developed a mature management structure. Managing an organization increases efficiency and preserves the progress previously made by the organization, but it is hard to change. An organization that began as a nimble network of relationships predictably grows into a highly structured business. That is the inevitable evolution of the organization over time.
Obviously, then, somebody must address how to get this slowing organization moving at the speed of change. Kotter’s tool is to layer the network over the hierarchy and charge them with the change responsibilities.
I love that this Harvard Business Review book is essentially a work-around! It is a short-cut to change an organization without organizing the change. I love it because I need it!
I used “organization” throughout this summary rather than “business” because I am going to take action on this apart from business. I lead a 73 year-old church. The external environment is changing faster than ever. Accelerate has been for me in 2014 what Leading Change was in 1996 when I read it. Not only is my organization almost 20 years older than it was, so am I.
It has slowed down, but I have slowed down so much that I took a sabbatical this summer, on which I read this book. Our church has big opportunity to be much more involved in our community. But, we have no direct place in our structure for that to fit. The most certain way to mess it up would be to form a committee that votes on a “community involvement” policy for the church. After all, whose responsibility is it when it should be everyone’s responsibility?
After reading this book I am looking forward to seeking volunteers throughout the structure of the church to network throughout our church to engage our city. As a network, they’ll be able to leverage both the existing youth ministry as well as senior adults. They will be able to swing hammers, serve meals, rake leaves, tutor or counsel. The opportunities are endless, but hard to organize! So we will create a second operating system.
What big opportunity is coming that people in your organization will find compelling enough to take on extra work in order to seize it? That’s the question!