Series on Adapting to Change: Y2K – And Making the Case for Change

In the late-1990s, industries around the world were becoming increasingly alarmed that all software would reset itself on 1 January 2000. Fear spread, and a generation of businesses was set up to address this impending crisis, known as Y2K (Year 2000).

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No CEO worth his or her salt could say they wouldn’t address this change. It was a classic Doomsday scenario, driven by the book Computers in Crisis by Jerome and Marilyn Murray. Following publication in 1984, it was picked up in USENET discussion groups and in the early days of the Internet, and built momentum from there.

In the history of business, no change management programme has galvanized businesses like Y2K. The consequences of inertia were all too clear. In this instance the success of organizational change – supporting the delivery of crucial business strategies – was driven by a common and effective organizational change requirement.

Setting aside the frequent misappropriation and misunderstanding of the term, effective change management enables leadership teams and their organizations to ensure successful growth and swiftly take advantage of opportunities that present themselves. In this instance, the change programme was about avoiding a global disaster.

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The emphasis had to be on rapid implementation, and leaders had to avoid the temptation to try to deliver value from change. This was all about ensuring that solutions were found and implemented in time. Organizations had to be agile enough to act at short notice.

While planes never did fall from the sky at 01/01/00, we’ll never know what might have happened had the clocks stopped. Although an estimated $300bn was spent ensuring that nothing occurred, Y2K was the global mobilization that showed the promise and value of change management.