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Sunday, 14 November 2010

Revolution or Evolution? It's Your Choice!

The (relatively) new Chief Executive of Marks and Spencer, Marc Bolland, in announcing their excellent six months results last week, made the point that he intends to develop the business by evolution, not revolution.

An interesting point and one which seems to escape us from time to time.  There is a place for everything and certainly a place for a considered process where change is concerned.

In the case of a very large retailer, the decision must take into account the needs and wishes of its customers and particularly in an iconic business such as M&S.  There is always a need on the part of the business to decide on which sector of the market it wishes to go for and with a regular and devoted core of customers any change must be incremental. 

However, there are occasions when there is a need to take drastic action.  I recall a client telling me that some years ago, when he was promoted from Finance Director to Chief Executive, he decided to change the culture of the business from authoritarian to inclusive.  The former CEO was very much a "top down" manager and all decisions stemmed from the top.

Indeed, everyone in the business knew that if a member of staff went into his office, it was for chastisement, not praise or reward.

The new CEO was determined to change all that.  He shipped everyone out for a couple of weeks into temporary accommodation, had the place redecorated and made into open plan, and had a series of meetings with the staff to tell them that from now on, things were changing.

In general it was extremely well received but as he said: "In some cases, there was blood on the carpet".  Some staff members just couldn't cope with the change simply because they had been so steeped in the former culture that they just couldn't cope with the new freedom.

So, it's horses for courses.   Evolution or revolution?   Change always has an effect on a business and it needs some very careful thought beforehand.  Lee Thayer says that the big bang approach is necessary ion some cases, but there is no doubt that it requires a lot of careful thinking and planning.

The kai-zen or incremental approach is easier but slower.   An advantage is that you can spot how the changes  are being received and make amendments as necessary, an approach which is much more problematical in the case of a revolution.

So watch out for the evolution in M&S.  It could be an interesting time for this great retailer and the next six months results will give the clue.

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David Adams said...

A client tells me that "change is only good when imposed on others!"

Anonymous said...

Greatings from the Drucker Institute in Claremont CA where I am a Writer-in-Residence with my brother and co-author of THE PURITAN GIFT. How much we agree with your views on this subject. As Bill Given the author of "Bottom-up management" once remarked, the CEO rarely gives orders.