Euan Semple: real organisational change happens at individual level

A knee jerk initiative to show an agency is moving with the times rarely gets the job done. But government isn’t going away, so agency bosses need to find ways to shed their dinosaur image and inspire change at an individual level, says management consultant Euan Semple.

In more and more organisations senior management realise that fundamental challenges to the status quo are emerging and they know they need to do something about it. The knee jerk reaction is to have an initiative, some sort of change programme: “drive employee engagement”; “develop our people’s leadership potential”; “encourage creativity”.

Those further down the chain are put in charge of these initiatives and get busy doing what you do to run an initiative. But the challenge is that all too often they themselves are the very group who have been previously charged with creating the organisational norms and culture that are the source of the problem that the organisation is now having to deal with!

All too often the result is half hearted at best, disingenuous at worst. In fact the phrase “lipstick on a pig” has become common parlance for the superficial attempts at change that are all too often the result. Pockets of change may be achieved but the prevailing organisational culture reasserts itself.

I am increasingly asked to help with this challenge. Keynotes on working in a digital world, involvement in leadership programmes at business schools, workshops for large institutions trying to adapt. Sometimes it feels like I am spending my career attempting to resuscitate dinosaurs and I wonder if it might be kinder to shoot them and move on. But the sorts of institutions I mostly work with aren’t going away tomorrow. There are no viable alternatives. They have to find a way to deal with this.

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