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Hot-and-Heady, or Slow-and-Steady?

Updated: Jan 22, 2023

The story of the Tortoise and the Hare is a classic fable nearly everyone hears in their early years. I won’t retell it here, but it’s a story broadly understood as teaching valuable lessons about the dangers of overconfidence and the importance of persistence. Over the years, there have been several attempts to summarise the basic message: “Perseverance winneth”, “The more haste, the worse speed”, and “The race is not to the swift” (Ecclesiastes 9.11) have each been popular renderings. So, what can change management professionals and other business leaders learn a great deal from this story?

Recall the now fabled story of Kodak, who was once the leader in the film photography industry but failed to adapt to the digital photography revolution. Like the Hare in the story, Kodak became complacent and overconfident in its position, thinking that digital photography would never replace film. Kodak failed to plan and prepare for the change, resulting in a significant decline in its market share and ultimately filing for bankruptcy in 2012.

Or, take the example of Nokia who was once the leader in the mobile phone industry but failed to adapt to the rise of smartphones. Like Kodak, Nokia was dismissive of new technologies and failed to adapt and plan for change. Perhaps, if Nokia had been able, like the Tortoise, to focus on the finish line and the competition, it could have avoided a significant decline in its market share and an acquisition by Microsoft in 2013.

The Tortoise in the story is clearly not the fastest, but she is determined and persistent. She keeps moving forward and ultimately wins the race. The importance of continuing to push forward, even when faced with resistance or obstacles, is an excellent lesson for managers. Also, the Tortoise took the time to plan his strategy, simple as it may have been, before the race was thus able to execute it successfully. From this, one might learn the importance of taking the time to plan and prepare for change before implementing it.

Manage the Pace of Change

To be clear, it’s not my intention to valorize the Tortoise in the sense in which a “slow and steady” approach to managing change is always the right one. Faster can be, and often is, better. Yet, too much speed can be detrimental to the values and goals of an organisation. Once the signs of change saturation appear - decreased productivity, diminished motivation, and increased absenteeism - there’s often no time longer time to de-accelerate quickly enough to avoid the crashing effect of change fatigue.

The point I really want to make here has to do with the importance of managing the pace of change. Rather than becoming complacent and falling behind, or trying to move faster than your legs will take you by implementing too many changes at once, change managers should accept and adopt something of a regulative role, one that ensures that leadership is briefed on the current level of change saturation and informed about the risks of moving too quickly.

Managing the pace of change can be a balancing act, to be sure. However, pushing forward and remaining competitive, while at the same time maintaining a sustainable pace that allows employees time to adjust to changes before implementing new ones, is more likely to produce winning results in the long run.

Matthew Baker is a Change Management and Learning & Development professional with over a decade of experience delivering user-centered graphic, audio, and instructional design, as well as project management. He holds degrees in Instructional Design, Applied Physics, and Organizational Management.

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