Change is not always necessary, and it definitely isn’t always good.
I advocate against haphazard and random change or change just for the sake of it. Instead, I recommend working with leaders and executives to perform a thorough analysis of pressing issues and organizational strategy and, if so deemed, formulating global change efforts that will positively impact the organization and its stakeholders.
As humans, we can change – but not too much too fast or too often. Fail to change often enough or during the right times and you die or become irrelevant, but change too fast or too often and your efforts are not sustained or, even worse, they just fail to take hold at all.
How Can We Strike The Right Balance?
The Knowledge Already Exists. We have the right information. There are more than enough executive training and academic programs delivering solid, valuable information on how to manage and sustain change in large and small organizations. I assert that a lack of knowledge is no longer a problem; however, confidence, commitment, and implementation are.
The right balance is struck when you apply a change management methodology that supports and advances your ability to anticipate, plan and respond to change by using a methodical and streamlined approach. If you’re unsure of how solid your methodology is or don’t have one at all, I am sharing a proven one with you. And if you have a solid change methodology, check your process against these seven steps. Are you skipping any steps?
Seven (7) Step Change Management Methodology to Navigate and Sustain Organizational Change
1. There has to be a real meaningful focus on defining the “right” outcomes and dedicating the resources for data collection and analysis. Data, in and of itself, is of no real value. But when leaders turn that data into intelligence that can be used to support decisions and guide outcome definition, we are really doing great work.
Perform a thorough diagnosis and analysis to determine the pain that is expected to be alleviated by the change intervention (symptom-based) or the expected benefits to the organization and its people (strategic-based). Many well-meaning professionals drop this ball. This involves a lot of upfront work that people all too often decide to skip. When this happens, it is akin to setting out on a trip to some destination without knowing where you are even going. And even when one argues clarity on the destination, there has to be a case made for (1) why you are going (2) when you need to be there (3) what you hope to do when you get there and (4) what will indicate success (the metrics and standards).
As organization development leaders and change consultants, we have to resist the temptation to give our clients the quick fix or even offer it as a means to get the contract or appease the company sponsor. Whether you are an internal or external consultant, tell leaders and teams the truth and make it doable, but tell them the truth about the hard work that will need to take place and the specific changes that will need to be made to get them where they say they want to go.
Sadly, for several reasons, these aspects are altogether skipped or minimally addressed. Consequently, the changes continue to fail in that they are not sustained even after they do initially take hold.
2. Give internal and external stakeholders the WIIFM. We must give people the answer to “What’s in it for me?” Only then will they help the change agent with the WIIFO (what’s in it for the organization). Every reputable change management consultant and leader out there agrees that we will fail if we don’t secure proper buy in and investment from the internal and external stakeholders. We must give people the WIIFM upfront to secure this buy in.
3. Establish “owners’ for the change effort and outline a communication strategy that addresses how to communicate up, down, and across.
Much gets lost in translation, and when people don’t feel their leaders are being transparent they will just MSU (make stuff up). By assigning change owners at several levels and encouraging transparent communications, we increase the likelihood of success.
4. Get up to speed on the six (6) daunting emotions that people experience before and while transitioning through change.
Human dynamics can get in the way. As we go through the process of instituting change – whether strategic-based change (when there is no identifiable pain to be alleviated – proactive) or symptom-based change (when there is identifiable pain to be alleviated or problem to be solved – reactive), we experience feelings and emotions that need to be understood and addressed. Fail to give these emotional responses the proper attention and success becomes fleeting at best and elusive at worst.
Here are the emotions/feelings and the underlying drivers and thoughts…
Fear – The devil I know is better than the one I don’t…
Withdrawal – These changes won’t affect me; I’ll just stay over here and do my thing, and so he avoids seeking any help.
Denial – They have been talking about doing this for years, but this will soon pass and things will continue as usual.
Resistance – The uncertainty and unpredictability is too uncomfortable. I really just don’t want to do this.
Sabotage – I’ve been loyal to this company; how do think they can do this to me? This frustration leads one to champion for systems or organizational failure.
Focus on the loss – Things won’t be the same around here. We will not be able to implement the change; it doesn’t benefit me anyway. As such, this person is stuck focusing on what she is losing.
It is incumbent upon those leading the change effort to listen to and see what is happening. Who are those supporting the change and who are not? There needs to be a plan to properly address and segregate these three groups in a meaningful way (1) champions/owners, (2) neutralists, and (3) resisters.
Regarding resisters, you will need to determine and address the underlying emotions (listed above) and cause(s) of resistance. There are myriad reasons why people continue to resist, and these reasons should be solicited.
However, after all efforts have been made to bring resisters on board and they still are intent on resisting and maybe even sabotaging the effort, hard decisions need to made about what to do with these people.
We also cannot forget about the neutralists out there. While they may not hurt, the people on the fence are not helpful either. When going through a change process, we want as many supporters as possible.
5. Subscribe to the open-systems model. Closed systems are defined as those with limited response to and interaction with the external environment whereas open systems (whole systems) are defined as those that exist within a larger environment and are positively or negatively affected by how they respond to and interact with that environment.
Assess impending changes based on their impact to the entire organization, process and/or the interconnected processes in the system. Focus on a systematic cultural shift in the “way we do things around here.”
The likelihood of success is significantly increased when the whole system is considered (the sum of its internal parts as well as the external and environmental factors and forces impacting it). Within the auspices of this OD philosophy, organization systems seek to transform inputs (e.g. information, people, and technology) into outputs (e.g. products, goods, and services) by managing, coordinating, and organizing processes and evaluating and responding to consumer feedback and needs.
To this end, the change team must understand the importance of remaining adaptable to its environment and demonstrate a willingness to modify transformative processes accordingly to ensure value delivery.
6. Apply fluid processes and adapt and/or course correct as necessary. It is very important to really “see” what is happening and “listen” to what is being communicated before, during and after the change. Regardless of the chosen change methodology, it is ever important to remain flexible and apply a fluid process that aligns and fits with the specific organization and its people.
7. Assess your own competence and commitment levels and those of the change sponsor, the individual who initially advocated for and championed the change in the first place. If/when this person flames out, failure will be hard to escape.
Henry Ford said “You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.” The only thing that matters is what we actually do.
Change resisters are banking on our complacency, lack of commitment, and/or lack of competence as a way to ensure they don’t ever really have to change anything at all. As the leader, check your own commitment level.
Continuous improvement and change management are pivotal to organizational success. This is true for the organization and its associates, employees, and team members, and it is why success is contingent upon the learning and growth that occurs for the organization as a whole and each of its stakeholders respectfully.
You tell me –
- How can you apply all or any of these steps to navigate and sustain organizational change more effectively?
- What emotions have gotten in the way of implementing organizational change, and what do you believe was underneath the emotions?
- Does your methodology align with this one? What would you add?