The idea that we should change during success but actually only do change during crises captures the history of organisational change and its practice. It also points to the dilemma that is facing contemporary organisations, which is that if you wait until a crisis before you begin to change in our complex and dynamic world, you are likely to be too late. A popular way of expressing this idea that people only change when they ‘feel the heat’ is found in the expression ‘the burning platform’, a phrase much used by consultants. This is consistent with the need of ‘an emotional stir-up’ as a means of disturbing the equilibrium of the status quo. That is, to get change started you have to overcome inertia, defined as the inability of the organisation to change as rapidly as the environment. In essence, an inertial capacity for change says that until a gap becomes apparent between the organisation and the environment that is sufficiently wide to generate a sense of urgency / burning platform, there is little or no motivation to change.
Now, as the world feels its way toward recovery and the new opportunities of the next normal, another risk looms. It is that inertia will set in, along with a longing for a return to the operating style of the days before COVID-19. How can leaders avoid the impulse to abandon the progress they have made in shaping a more productive and competitive company profile?