How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
Much of the reasons why change is required is rooted in the history of the organization. History can also give you lots of very useful information about how your plans may go astray. For these and more reasons, it can be a good idea to look backwards before you look forwards.
When times are ripe and the pickings are easy, then companies do not have to be very innovative to thrive. Success depends as much on external factors as they do internal competencies.
Look at the PESTLE history
PESTLE (aka. PEST, STEP, SLEEP, etc.) stands for Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal and Environmental factors. Each is an area to explore that can lead you to explanations of how innovations may abound, how change might be forced from the outside, how things might be cushy or crazy.
Look at market histories
Within the PESTLE factors, whole markets may appear, grow or die. At the same time, one market may be expanding rapidly whilst another is fading (sometimes as customer migrate from one to another). This is the sea within which the company was tossed and where it sank or swam.
The products or outputs of the organization across time, and the customers who bought them, will tell you a lot about what went on inside the company.
See the innovation and change
Companies often start with innovation, but this does not always continue. Look at the great new products that appeared and how they wowed the market. Look for incremental innovation that shows a sustained push to stay ahead of the curve.
Also see times when innovation in products died away. Note these times and look later for correlation with other forces. Perhaps it was related to changes in leadership. Maybe it was market forces.
Watch for the curse of success
When you have a successful product range, it can last for such a long time that you forget how to innovate. Sometimes you are so focused on your current customers, you miss tomorrows customers who may be completely different. Many companies lurch from brilliant success into predictable failure, as the easy pickings of today lead either to comfortable fat cats or a company that is so honed for today's market that it is unable to change when today's market disappears.
Companies may have many records that tell you a story, filling the details and confirming or disconfirming your suspicions.
Look at the finances
The finances of the company will tell you about the fundamental ups and downs. They will show you the profitable and less profitable times and where change became an imperative rather than a possibility.
Look at the words
Written records such as company reports, meeting minutes and so on will also tell a story. Especially those around times of change, you will see what the real priorities of the organization are. Many organizations put finances way ahead of anything else. Others put customers first. A few enlightened ones even start with their employees.
The people of the organization are perhaps the best resource for finding out about the company history.
Listen to the old timers
Find the people who have been around since the year dot. Most organizations have people who have survived the ups and downs and who are, to a large extent, the living historians of the company. Surprisingly often, the janitorial staff are silent and unnoticed observers who push their brooms around the corridors of power whilst listening and pondering deeply.
Hear the range of stories
Get to people in all positions, high and low. Listen to the stories of power and politics. Hear the people's lives running through the organization. Listen for loyalties and disloyalties. Hear how people handled the stress of change. Notice who survived change and who did not.
Hear the critical events
Listen for the critical events of change within the organization and what happened next. Hear how people were treated. Hear how leaders were inspirational or otherwise. Hear how managers handled the different brushes of change.
In looking through the areas above, most of all look at how people and the organization as a whole managed change.
Watch for change readiness
A change-ready organization is alert and ready. Change does not faze it. People do not fear different things, but look forward with interest and excitement to the challenge of the new.
Notice how this change readiness has been different across the organization. Were the change-ready just senior managers? How ready were the middle managers? And what about manufacturing vs. R&D or Marketing? And maybe the new people vs. the older people?
Watch for change capability
It is one thing to be ready for change -- it is another to be good at it. Look at the history of change success and change failure, and try to determine the critical factors that made the difference. Was it the leaders? Was it something cultural? Did they bring in consultants to support the change?