“We advocate against haphazard and random change or change just for the sake of it. Instead, we embrace working with leaders and executives to perform a thorough analysis of the issues and, if so deemed, formulating strategic and global change management efforts that will positively impact the organization and its members.”
— Terina Allen, ARVis Institute
Change and Sustainability—Our Ongoing Challenge
70% of all change efforts fail. Clearly knowledge is no longer the problem.
Confidence, commitment, and implementation are.
The successful change effort is the one that strikes the appropriate balance between stability and adaptability. While most change consultants and leaders “know” this, the unconscionably high rate of failure persists. The research reflects that 70% of all change efforts fail, and despite the dominance of leadership, strategy, organization development, and change management theories, researchers, and executive/academic programs available, we have not realized a decline on this statistic over the past quarter century. What are we missing? If innovative companies drive our future and these companies demonstrate innovation by finding the balance between stability and adaptability, how can this statistic stand?
The right information already exits. 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. We assert that a lack of knowledge is no longer a problem; however, confidence, commitment, and implementation are. After successfully resolving change management challenges with our clients and researching more than five decades of studies, theories, and methodologies, this article is presented as a reference sheet for what contributes to failed and successful change efforts.
Do you know where you are going, and can you get there without changing?
These are the questions that leaders must ask when considering how to move their organizations and people to the next level. The successful change effort is the one where a balance is made between stability and adaptability. These are both critical elements to organizational growth and innovation, and we help you strike that balance.
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 change management leaders and 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 sponsor. Whether you are an internal or external consultant, tell them 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 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.
Help employees understand “what’s in it for them” and why it benefits the organization to expend more resources improving processes and making needed changes.
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. Plan for the human side of change.
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 are pressed to address the inevitable fears that result with the change.
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 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 individuals.
Understand internal and external drivers of change and when to advance change efforts to maintain a financial, operational, and human capital competitive advantage.
Identify the various stages of organizational, team and individual change and determine the best communication processes to employ. And, we 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.
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.
When you want to lead change management projects with a strategic-based mindset, apply the steps and methods described in this article. These are proven success strategies.
How does your change management methodology differ from this one? And how do you know when or even if it’s working?
Recognize key organizational and employee change transitions and triggers and the positive and negative impact for each.
By Terina Allen
President & CEO, ARVis Institute
Chair, ARVoices Strategic Leadership Network