12th March 2020

Successful Change: You don’t need to be Einstein . . .


You’ve probably seen the quote, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results”, words widely credited to Albert Einstein. It’s almost the quintessential phrase executives use to justify a reason to change things.

But hang on a sec. Let’s assume the inverse is also true. The definition of sanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting the same results. I go to the same coffee shop every morning because I like the way they do coffee. It is one of those things I don’t need to change to start my day off on the right foot.

Now when it comes to successful change in organisations, the key word in Einstein’s quote is not “insanity”, it is the word “results”. I say that on the basis that if I’m happy with the results I’m getting why would I risk doing something differently?


Smart operators know that often the best way to succeed is to avoid failure!


Granted, if you are not happy with results you are getting you need to change something. However, what continues to amaze me is the almost universal belief that the changing of a process, or the introduction of automation or the restructuring of a team, will yield better results.


An alternative definition of insanity should be ‘changing things that work and getting a worse result.’


In your experience did introducing:

  • An Enterprise Resource Planning system reduce costs, improve forecasting and increase cash flow?
  • A Customer Relationship Management system improve your customer relationships and sales?
  • An Applicant Tracking System result in you hiring better quality people faster?
  • Centralised procurement on a process improve supplier relationships, supplier quality and end-user satisfaction?

It’s surprising that organisations go about changing things and end up with performance at levels that are no different or sometimes even worse than before. It seems like implementing the new software platform or applying a new process change or conducting a restructure is itself the goal, as opposed to the organisational results the change should deliver.

Perhaps it’s because we get trapped in the excitement and possibilities of access to new technology, or perhaps it’s because we haven’t been clear enough on the performance area we are targeting to improve and who that result is intended to benefit. For example, HR putting in place performance management software that has managers and employees entering lots of data, yet ‘the system’ does nothing to improve the quality of human conversations or to deliver better organisational performance.

Defining a Great Result

Successful change starts by identifying what results you want to improve and ends with measuring the gap between expected results and results delivered.

Successful change comes down to six questions:

  1. Have we clearly established what better (i.e. the new results) looks like for every stakeholder?
  2. Do we know the cost of maintaining the status quo?
  3. Are these new results a material benefit to the organisation and its stakeholders?
  4. Have we established the costs and risks of change?
  5. Can we reasonably expect to achieve these better results? and;
  6. Will those better results yield a return on the investment we will make to achieve them?

If the answer to all six questions is ‘Yes’ then get on with developing a comprehensive change agenda (which may well include process change, software and automation or restructuring). If you answered ‘No’ to any of them go back to the drawing board lest you fulfill that alternative definition of insanity.

So, how sane is your organisation? Remember, you don’t need to be Einstein to lead successful change.

If you’d like to have an open-ended discussion on performance areas that need to improve, get in touch. We’re always happy to help our clients and potential clients think through options and opportunities. We never charge for brainstorming. Through a free-flowing discussion of ideas we’ll find out whether or not there is a good fit between what you need and what we do well or not. If there is, we can keep talking so that we bring you good choices. If not, we’ll be the first to say so.

Justin Miles

Justin Miles

Manager Partner, Melbourne at Generator Talent
Justin is the Managing Partner of our Melbourne office, an outcome focused leader with a track record of driving business performance through proven talent and organisation development practices. Justin’s methods and skills have been shaped by working with performance oriented leaders in great companies including PepsiCo, The Campbell Soup Company, Diageo, Rip Curl, Fonterra and Wesfarmers, in Australia, the USA and Latin America.
Justin Miles

Categories: Aligning Talent

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