Srinters and Stayers – Following through on organisational challenges

The first Tuesday in November is an important date in both Australia and the United States of America. For Australia it signals the greatest of all horseracing events in the country, the Melbourne Cup, where stamina, strategy and quick responses are all elements of importance in running the race. For the USA  it signals the culmination of many months of frenetic political campaigning for election to the office of President. In that race also stamina, strategy and quick responses to opportunities are important contributions to success.

The results of the 2012 Melbourne Cup produced some surprises for a number of Connections as the usual long-distance tactic of sustaining a measured pace for a large part of the distance with a view to finishing fast, was brought undone by the sprinters taking the lead early and maintaining a pace which the stayers just could not overcome in the run home.


Winner of the 2012 Melbourne Cup, Green Moon and an elated Jockey, Brett Pebble. (Image: Scott Barbour. Source: Getty Images)

 In the American race the contest was much closer and both contenders made spirited running right down to the wire, with the Republican candidate pressing his claim as a “sprinter” in getting things done and the Democrat candidate arguing that as a “stayer” he needed a further term to finish the programs he had begun.

How pace of change implementation can effect success.

In many ways these little anecdotes mirror the conundrums of implementing effective organisational change. There are at least four scenarios to reflect on the vagaries of the pace of implementing change.

  • In some cases  the change agents are smartly out of the gates and make early gains, but weaken in the medium term and having lost momentum never attain the prize of sustainable change.
  • In other cases the change agents are very slow in initiating action and never really pick up sufficient momentum, resulting in true change never being achieved and old practices triumphing.
  • Again, change agents  can begin quickly and turn early initiatives into medium-term gains and long-term sustainability by embracing urgency of action.
  • Yet again, change agents might begin at a measured pace but sustain moderate momentum always moving forward, consolidating as they go to underpin long-term sustainability.

There is no one single best approach and each has its positives and pitfalls. It is of course always possible that whatever the starting strategy, change of pace in the mid-term can prove highly propitious or desperately disastrous.

Skill required in reading appropriate change momentum.

A key skill exercised by successful change managers is the ability to read the organisation, its culture and its appetite for and responsiveness to the pace of change. Being able to assess the likely reactions of individuals and groups to the different velocities of change programs and indeed to shifts in momentum at critical points, is vital to being able to take advantage of the “sprinter” and “stayer” approaches to securing change objectives.

Although it is natural for the momentum of change implementation to ebb and flow according to circumstances, it is important to be able to judge when those shifts are happening and to ensure that there is determined follow-through on the actions that might, for the time being, lose forward motion.

Many instances of organisational change have come to grief because the leaders of the change fail to notice the momentum shift and to intervene to ensure the continuing follow-through of the original action plan and objectives.Obamawins

If Green Moon had not been able to keep up the sprinter’s pace he would surely have been overtaken by the stayers. If Barack Obama cannot prove his staying power will achieve the economic and social objectives he has promised, the American voters may well turn away from his Party on the first Tuesday in November 2016.

(Image: AP / Matt Rourke. Source: Detroit Free Press)

Whether sprinter or stayer, pressing on energetically and following through to ensure the prize is secured is the most successful strategy.

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