In my life I have moved from the bush to town to city to city on average every five years. I have lived in three countries and visited forty countries to work. I have owned six houses and lived at twenty five different addresses. I have changed job on average every 2.2 years. Change and I are no strange bedfellows.

What I have learnt during those years of continual change is that on when entering a new role in an organisation where change is required there is about six weeks to make an impact. Within six weeks we need to establish what merit exists for what level of change and make our intentions in changing the culture of what we inherited, known.

My rationale behind this observation stems from the fact that organisational inertia is a significant barrier to changing culture. If we do not make a conscious decision about change and signal our intention, we are easily sucked into the existing general pattern of organisational inertia.

Organisational inertia is the lack of ability of an organisation to react to external and internal shocks. The inability to react, for example, to a competitor’s dramatic change in prices, or a new government policy or a rapid decline in a country’s gross domestic product, is organisational inertia.

Organisational inertia is caused by many factors, a few of which I will illustrate.

One simple factor is the sheer level of career movement so prevalent now. People are not in a role long enough to take responsibility for their mistakes.

Changing anything in an organisation can easily be made to take eighteen to twenty four months. Thus, the incumbent moves on six months after implementation is completed, if it is indeed, completed. They never have to see whether what they changed worked or had unintended consequences.

Not being in a role long enough to see consequences of our handiwork means that we always have a perception of reality distorted through the prism of analysis and projections rather than actual results.

The people who stay on and work for us can see a pattern which we cannot see because we are not looking. They in turn learn that new managers will always do what they want and become sanguine about “change” knowing that “change” will “change” when the next manager takes up their new role.

They become un-enthused about change and become inert to exaltations from management about the need for change.

Another factor contributing to organisational inertia is a reactive mindset to problems. A reactive mindset is when we say “nothing can be done”, “the problems are inevitable”. For many years in industrial marketing I heard about “mature markets” or “commodity markets” as the reason behind poor business performance.

Management would comfort themselves that the “market” was a bad one to be in. Nothing could be done. Poor returns were expected. The truth is that the marketers were poor, lacked imagination and drive and understood the market from a product perspective only.

Office politics is another factor in organisational inertia. Managers seeking personal improvement at the expense of others create an environment where personal advancement overrides strategic and tactical thinking. In such an environment, comprehensive change is impossible.

Routines and rituals are a factor of organisational inertia. The weekly meeting, the monthly one on one with the immediate supervisor, annual planning and succession planning are all susceptible to becoming a routine or a ritual. In becoming so they become an inhibitor to change rather than a tool for change.

Entrenched leadership can be a factor in organisational inertia. When a leader is required to initiate major change they may need to repudiate prior commitments, undo previous decisions and in some cases develop a different external personality. For many leaders this proves too hard a task and they themselves become a major blocker to change.

The average time I have observed for a leader to start to fit into the routines and rituals, to already make commitments, to become part of the office politics scene, to become part of the reactive mindsets is six weeks.

To avoid being part of the organisational inertia we need, in those first six weeks of a new role, to do at least two things.

One is to talk and listen to as many people as we can from all walks of organisational life. Merely showing an interest in people, listening to their views is like a breath of fresh air to people mired in organisational inertia.

The second is to act on what we find out to reduce the level of organisational inertia and commit to understanding more. The acts we take may be simple, such as eliminating unproductive meetings or as dramatic as replacing people, but we must be seen to act.

Taking longer inevitably, I observe, leads to failure to change until we are replaced by someone else.