Don't Go Changing

Just because it's the hip thing to do. It may not be the best thing to do.

Every time Daniel Huntsman specifies a color for a screw on a hinge, he knows there's a good chance it will change. If Huntsman Architectural Group buys a new computer to help create office designs, the CEO knows it will soon be rendered obsolete by a new and improved model. And whenever a new market develops for the 19-year-old company, as it recently has with the growing demand to design spaces for Bay area Internet start-ups, Huntsman knows it will eventually be replaced by a new market requiring new skills.

The process of change is exhausting and may be ultimately destructive if left unchecked, according to Huntsman. "I get worn out by it," says the 50-year-old, whose San Francisco firm employs 55 people. "Change is good, but too much of it wears things out. And change for the sake of change isn't always good."

Numerous business executives agree with Huntsman that change must be limited sometimes, instead of uncritically embraced, if it's to be managed effectively. The Federal Reserve Bank, 3M and Wal-Mart are a few large, successful organizations that have been singled out as being less than enthusiastic about sweeping change. The Fed, as part of its Y2K risk control effort, actually proscribed change at the end of last year and the beginning of this year. By limiting changes, it provided a stable internal processing environment-entering 2000 and minimized the changes its customers would have to make to applications that interface with the Fed's software.

Limiting change may well be an idea whose time has come. Change has been presented lately as an absolute good, something to be actively encouraged for its own intrinsic worth. But the pursuit of pointless new initiatives wastes corporate resources, warns Deborah J. Barrett, Ph.D., instructor and director of MBA Communications at Rice University's Jones Graduate School of Management in Houston.

"Unfortunately, businesses have gotten caught up in change for change's sake," says Barrett. "They think changing will keep them out in front of the competition. But organizations need some stability. The idea of change for change's sake isn't a good approach to managing a business."

Mark Henricks is an Austin, Texas, writer who specializes in business topics and has written for Entrepreneur for 10 years.

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This article was originally published in the March 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Don't Go Changing.

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