Management and change management: 8 keys to success

03.15.2023 5 min
Read my column published in March 14th 2023 issue of Harvard Business Review

No method can guarantee a business’s success. There is no doubt that some mechanisms lead straight to failure. However, some ideas, based on experience and reflection, may be useful.

1. Be constantly attentive to changes in the environment and the conditions in which you work

It is vital to continually ensure that the model you have conceptually developed remains relevant. You have to think about your model, of course, but you also have to regularly check that you are always thinking correctly, by maintaining methodological doubt, and never getting bogged down in certainties.

At the same time, you must draw on firm convictions by analysing what is invariable in your job. Why this job is useful to people, as well as to the economy. Finding and understanding these invariants enables us to adapt to changes without constantly changing the whole business model. You must therefore have the ability to question your understanding of the environment in which you work.

Thus, having a clear understanding of the essence of your business and at the same time perceiving the changes in the way you do business is key to achieving your goal, ensuring a smooth transformation and not a brutal disruption.

For this approach, it is essential to combine analytical intelligence and intuitive intelligence, i.e. sensitivity to people and things. It is the condition for better understanding and anticipating. Anticipating means thinking about how employees, competitors and customers change the environment in which we operate, and also about the reactions they will show to the changes we think we should make. Anticipating correctly enables you to act correctly.

2. Consistency of choice

You must be completely consistent in the strategy pursued. Otherwise, meaning is lost. You can’t go anywhere with an inconsistent course, pointing in divergent directions.

But there is more. A poorly chosen strategy will inevitably lead to failure. But proposing a relevant strategy is by no means enough to lead to success. Consistency is a prerequisite for success. It is the alignment of strategy, the means to achieve it and the incentive systems. When the means implemented are used for a relevant strategy and the incentive system ensures that each person or team is inclined to direct their actions towards implementing the proposed strategy, then a kind of magic happens. Success is often achieved. This consistency of choice, experienced in each team, is thus fundamental.

3. Adequate change engineering

But this consistency, while necessary, is not sufficient. You also need adequate support, management and change engineering. And intuitive intelligence is essential here, as it enables you to detect obstacles to change and think about them in advance, thanks to feedback from the teams. And to overcome the difficulties thus encountered without losing direction. A clear, explained, but also shared strategy is one that is not only driven from the top, but is also the result of ongoing dialogue between managers and employees. And special attention to the reactions of both customers and competitors. This process is demanding but necessary and fruitful.

4. A process of trial and error

This logically leads to a well-conducted process of trial and error. Change must have a defined course, but it must be a well thought-out but flexible process. When developing a strategy, you know broadly where you want to go, but as the change unfolds, you discover the reactions of teams and customers. You therefore need to think about the tree of possibilities as far in advance as possible and not to plan the change rigidly and stick to it no matter what. Highly flexible and dynamic planning, incorporating the actual situation encountered, in a back and forth between the conceptualisation of the process followed and the reality that emerges as this process is rolled out, makes it much easier for you to reach your objective.

5. True kindness and the importance of trust

Kindness is a positive value, running counter to the prevailing cynicism. It is not the mark of a lack of intelligence or insight. It does not imply naivety. True kindness is a benevolent demand. It is neither softness nor laxity. It does not mean intransigence either. Demanding means first of all being demanding of yourself, and then obviously of your teams in order to take them as high as possible, to ensure that they succeed and are therefore happy with what they do. Kindness is also about trusting people a priori. Trust given in this way often attracts the trust of others in themselves as well as in the person who first gave it. If it is misplaced, it must be withdrawn; a priori trust is not blind trust.

Shared trust is a key element in the smooth functioning of the whole and in job satisfaction.

6. Setting the pace and developing the pleasure of working

Let’s not let boredom set in at work! Boredom, anxiety and inconstancy are often part of human nature, as Blaise Pascal once said. They reinforce each other. Work is such a big part of our lives that it is essential to seek pleasure in work, both for ourselves and for those around us. Setting the pace is to set the tempo, in the musical sense of the word. It means having projects all the time and completing them, and not feeling the time pass. It means communicating the desire and pleasure to do things and to do them well.

Moreover, work contributes to the socialisation of the individual and to their emancipation. It liberates. Working means participating in and contributing to the success of a team or a project. In this way, it helps give meaning to our lives.

Life is change, constant evolution. So is work. Life doesn’t stop, and neither do our projects. It is these projects that give rhythm to our work and our lives, and give dynamism to a company. The rhythm of life is an antidote to boredom. But we must never mistake a sense of rhythm with the confusion of overwork.

7. Ensuring equal opportunities and the marriage of efficiency and ethics

A fair business is a successful business. It is a company that provides equal opportunities, that provides the same opportunities for everyone, regardless of their religion, skin colour, social origin or educational background. Equal opportunities and talent are crucial. Even if avoiding all injustices is very difficult, we must constantly strive to do so.

More generally, it is obviously a question of combining efficiency and ethics, both with regard to employees and to customers and society. Both are necessary: efficiency without ethics does not work for long; ethics without efficiency cannot exist because there are no means to make it work.

8. Fair managers

in the age of the networked company, with the collaborative intranet and freely circulating information, managers should not be petty bosses sitting in their hierarchical role, standing behind their employees and keeping score. They must be in front of their teams to pull them up, motivate them, give them meaning, rhythm, desire, the joy of succeeding, the pleasure of achieving together. Help them overcome the difficulties they encounter, help them progress professionally in order to promote their autonomy and their capacity for initiative. With some supervision, of course, but in order to better move forward and progress.

These few ideas are far from exhaustive. They are not recipes, but rather a methodology, a business philosophy. A company that is good to work for and of which you can be proud, a company where work means something.

Olivier Klein
CEO of BRED and Professor of Financial Macroeconomics and of Monetary Policy at HEC Paris