The Inevitable Battle Between Required Change and the Maintenance of the Status Quo

Editor's note: Countless books, business press articles, conferences and the like have been devoted to the topic of change management.

Much coverage of this extremely important topic tends to ignore the incredible insights and actionable advice of Peter F. Drucker and Harvard's Ted Levitt.

In this and subsequent articles, we detail what these two masters provided in terms of insight, practical solutions, and frameworks for analysis. We suggest this article be read concurrently with How to Produce Innovation: Creating the Entrepreneurial Equivalent of Smallness Within the Larger Organizations.

When tomorrow's job involves attempts to create entirely new businesses...entirely new products...entirely new markets...entirely new processes or operating methods of more than trivial dimensions, there develops an inevitable battle between change leaders and preservers of the status quo.

The struggles are abrasive. Attempting to superimpose the new and different on an organization geared to carrying out today's tasks almost always is met with fierce resistance.

Drucker and Levitt observed that organizations exist to enable ordinary people to do extraordinary things. To accomplish this end, said Levitt, "they must routinize their work."

Levitt viewed it this way: "Routinization of anything…deadens alertness, attentiveness, imagination, energy and reaction time. Whenever routine reigns, special effort is needed to sustain the attention and responsiveness, to energize the system and its functionaries, to freshen the mind and get people moving..."

Routine leads to organizational inertia. Organizational inertia always pushes for continuing what the organization is already doing. And that's what causes the friction between change leaders and preservers of the status quo.

Said Drucker: "Modern organizations must be capable of change. Indeed it must be capable of initiating change, that is, innovation. It must be able to move scarce and expensive resources from areas of low productivity and non-results to opportunities for achievement and contribution."

Drucker further explained that every organization, whatever its objectives, must be able to get rid of yesterday's tasks and routines and thus frees its energies and resources for new and more productive tasks.

Any organization that wants to work on opportunities must be able to abandon the unproductive and slough off the obsolete. However, this is not an easy process. Organizational inertia creates a tremendous resistance that prevents change.

Even when change is important to the survival of the enterprise, those comfortable with existing routines and procedures find excuses to squash newness. But things wear out. Strategies and programs exhaust themselves. And thinking managers are forced to attempt to impose meaningful change on the organization.

In short, conflict is inevitable. Unless, of course, the organization has a mechanism, a methodology, a process for continuous improvement and change.

To reiterate: An organization whose operating efficiency requires rules, procedures and processes to get today's job done, will fiercely resist change.

Allegiance to the daily task, Drucker and Levitt reminded us, remains the predominant and inevitable focus of the typical organization. This creates a constraining environment to do new and therefore disruptive things.

Many executives battle the symptoms of organizational inertia without ever realizing the underlying "root cause" resides in the fact that an organization that exists to get today's job done cannot also do tomorrow's job very well.

Once the cause is understood the methods for introducing needed changes becomes quite apparent. Creating effective change is attitude and practices. It's also a methodology.

Change must be the norm rather than the exception, opportunity rather than threat. In existing and future articles we detail from variety of Drucker sources, his varying methodologies on how to create effective change.