The Power of Atomic Change to Unlock Quantum Growth in Any Business


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Organizations must be agile and adaptable to thrive in today’s rapidly evolving business landscape. This is why atomic change is more effective than quantum disruption.

The traditional approach to turbulent times has always been a monumental, top-down transformation. But this is no longer the only path to success and is certainly not the most effective.

Today, many companies are turning to a more nuanced strategy: atomic change. Atomic change is the father of agility and clarifies what is needed to meet our ever-changing world.

The Nature of Atomic Change

Atomic changes, also known as incremental or small-scale changes, involve making discrete adjustments to various aspects of a business. These changes are often gradual but collectively lead to significant transformation over time.

Let’s explore the key advantages of this approach:

1. Reduced Resistance: Atomic changes are met with less resistance from employees since they are usually less dramatic. A Gartner survey found that employees’ willingness to support enterprise change fell from 74% in 2016 to just 43% in 2022. So clearly atomic changes are the way to go.

Another survey, this time from Wharton, found that 70% of employees are more likely to embrace smaller, incremental changes compared to large-scale transformations. And McKinsey found that companies which failed their transformation programs identified employee resistance or management behaviour as the major barrier (72%) to success.

When Microsoft implemented its move from Windows 8 to Windows 10, they initially faced resistance from users who were accustomed to the older operating system. To address this, Microsoft introduced a series of atomic changes through regular updates and improvements to Windows 10. Over time, users began to appreciate the gradual enhancements, resulting in a higher acceptance rate and reduced resistance.

2. Faster Implementation: Another research study from McKinsey indicates that atomic changes can be implemented 30% faster, on average, than large-scale transformations. This seems obvious, but it is good to keep in mind in today’s dynamic business environment.

Amazon, known for its agile approach, continuously makes atomic changes to its e-commerce platform. They frequently implement small updates and new features, allowing them to respond swiftly to market demands. This rapid deployment strategy enables Amazon to maintain its competitive edge in the fast-paced online retail industry. It also allows them to identify winning concepts while highlighting and quickly removing those which don’t resonate with customers.

Statistics That Speak Volumes

The effectiveness of atomic change is not just anecdotal; it is backed by compelling statistics:

1. Employee Engagement: A Gallup poll revealed that organizations that frequently implement small, incremental changes report 25% higher employee engagement levels than those relying solely on large-scale transformations.

Google’s “20% Time” policy is a famous example of fostering employee engagement through atomic changes. Google encourages its employees to spend 20% of their work hours on projects of their choice. This practice has led to the development of innovative products like Gmail and Google Maps, demonstrating how incremental changes can engage and empower employees.

2. Risk Mitigation: According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), projects with budgets exceeding $1 million are 50% more likely to fail than those with smaller budgets. Atomic changes inherently involve lower financial risk, making them a safer bet.

The pharmaceutical industry relies on rigorous testing and incremental changes to develop new drugs. Drug companies conduct numerous small-scale clinical trials to assess safety and effectiveness. This approach minimizes the risk associated with large-scale drug development and regulatory approval processes.

3. Time-to-Value: The Harvard Business Review reports that atomic changes reduce the average time-to-value by 35%. This means that organizations can realize benefits more rapidly and remain competitive in dynamic markets.

In the software industry, companies like Adobe have shifted from traditional, large software releases to a subscription-based model. They now provide regular, incremental updates to their software products. This approach reduces the time-to-value for customers who can access new features and improvements immediately.

The Cumulative Effect

One of the most powerful aspects of atomic change is their accumulative effect. By consistently implementing small adjustments over time, organizations build a culture of continuous improvement. Let’s explore this concept further:

1. Habit Formation: Atomic changes enable the development of new habits and mindsets within an organization. As employees become accustomed to incremental improvements, they become more receptive to change, fostering a culture of innovation.

2. Incremental Gains: Research from the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) shows that organizations that implement continuous, incremental changes achieve 47% more significant gains in productivity and efficiency over a five-year period compared to those focusing solely on large-scale transformations.

3. Toyota’s continuous improvement approach, known as “Kaizen,” is a prime example of how small, accumulative changes can lead to significant transformation. Toyota encourages its employees to suggest and implement small process improvements daily, resulting in a culture of continuous improvement and innovation.

Testing and Experimentation

Atomic changes provide organizations with the ideal playground for testing and experimentation. This can be particularly valuable in industries characterized by rapid technological advancements:

1. Tech Innovation: Companies like Google and Facebook are renowned for their culture of experimentation. They regularly introduce small changes to their algorithms, user interfaces, and features. This allows them to gauge user reactions and fine-tune their offerings, maintaining their competitive edge.

2. Product Development: In the automotive industry, Tesla’s approach to electric vehicle technology is a prime example of atomic change. Rather than launching entirely new models, Tesla continually updates its existing vehicles with software enhancements, extending the life and appeal of its products.

3. Netflix is renowned for its data-driven approach to content recommendations. The company constantly makes small changes to its recommendation algorithms, allowing them to A/B test different approaches. These atomic changes help Netflix improve user engagement and retention over time.

Flexibility in a Changing World

The modern business landscape is unpredictable, and organizations must remain agile to adapt to new challenges and opportunities:

1. Pandemic Response: During the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations that could swiftly adapt to remote work and changing customer behaviours fared better. Many achieved this through a series of atomic changes, such as implementing new communication tools and remote work policies.

2. Market Volatility: In the financial sector, hedge funds are embracing atomic changes in their trading strategies. Instead of making significant, risky bets, they adjust their portfolios incrementally based on real-time market data, reducing exposure to large losses.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many organizations, including technology companies like Zoom and Slack, quickly introduced atomic changes to their platforms to support remote work and collaboration. These changes allowed them to adapt to the changing needs of their customers and remain relevant.

Reduced Disruption and Improved Cultural Alignment

Large-scale transformations can disrupt daily operations for extended periods, often leading to decreased productivity and customer service. Atomic changes mitigate these issues:

1. Manufacturing Efficiency: We already mentioned Toyota’s “Kaizen” approach to their processes, but they also implement atomic changes in their manufacturing. Encouraging employees to suggest small improvements to their work processes continually, it not only enhances efficiency but also minimizes production disruptions.

2. Cultural Alignment: Atomic changes can be better aligned with an organization’s existing culture. This alignment fosters a sense of ownership and alignment among employees, leading to smoother implementation and acceptance.

Southwest Airlines, known for its unique company culture, implements atomic change to maintain operational efficiency. They make small, continuous improvements to processes like aircraft turnaround times and employee training. This aligns with their culture of cost-effective operations and exceptional customer service.

Conclusion: A Quantum Leap Through Atomic Change

In an era defined by rapid change and uncertainty, the path to organizational transformation is evolving. While large-scale transformations have their place, the power of atomic change lies in their ability to deliver quantum evolution over time.

By reducing resistance, speeding up implementation, and fostering a culture of continuous improvement, organizations can position themselves for sustained success in the dynamic business landscape of the 21st century. Embracing the incremental approach is not just a choice; it’s a strategic imperative.

In the words of Peter Drucker,

“The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence; it is to act with yesterday’s logic.”

As we navigate the challenges and opportunities ahead, let atomic change be the compass that guides us toward a brighter, more agile, and transformative future.

What will you change as a priority?

Denyse Drummond-Dunn
Denyse is the Creator of the Quantum Customer Centricity (QC2™) Model. QC2™ is the New CX for organisations that want to find atomic steps that deliver quantum results, attracting, delighting & retaining more customers. Denyse is Nestle’s former Global Head of Consumer Excellence and has >30 yrs’ experience as a Speaker, Advisor and Author. She delivers inspiring keynotes, motivational talks and actionable training. Her global business consultancy, C3Centricity, has expertise in over 125 countries! Check her website and connect to discuss if she would be a great fit for your next event.


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