Change cannot be avoided – it is there! Right now, we are living through a huge wave of transformation. Every aspect of our life is affected – politics, economics, technology, society.
These changes affect every company, every company in the world. Leaders cannot ignore change.
The consulting company McKinsey states that 70 percent of change programs fail to achieve their goals (https://mck.co/2MYpWgb). From what I have observed over the years, the same mistakes are made over and over again.
So, let’s have a look at the 5 principles which should be taken into consideration in a change process.
1. Upper Management’s full commitment
Top managers strongly believe in the change programs they initiate, often investing a lot of energy in the kick-off events. Competent and highly motivated experts are engaged to drive the change process, so that the top managers are only required to supervise the progress, thus freeing them up to focus on other areas of the business.
And this is the first step that leads to failure: Change cannot be delegated!
To enable a successful change, top managers have to be visibly present throughout the process. All efforts must be made to communicate the core message of change from the very moment the change program is announced. Yes, this can be strenuous, but it is necessary!
More often than not top managers try to avoid this level of commitment. This often leads to their disappointment about the pace of progress and the resistance to change in the organization, for which the change experts get blamed. They fail to realize that it is their lack of commitment which is missing.
- What am I willing to invest in the change process?
- How should I adjust my behavior and actions to convey the desired change to everyone?
- How can I protect myself from relapsing into old patterns?
2. A clear vision of the change process
Everyone in an organization going through a change process wonders how they might be affected by the process. The answer to this is to provide a clear picture of the future state the change is aiming to achieve. And here is where the next mistake is made: A clear picture is often missing, because the change process has not been thought through completely.
“We have an agile organization”, “Leadership for the future”, “a lively feedback-culture” are all slogans which are good for advertising and promotion. They convey emotions, but not a clear picture of the desired out-come.
For example: What does an agile organization look like? How exactly does it affect communication, cooperation, hierarchy, status and power? Case studies, examples and anecdotes carry a stronger message and reduce guesswork.
- What is the desired out-come of the change process?
- What are the benefits for the company, the employees, the customers and other stakeholders?
- Which case studies, examples and anecdotes support the message?
3. Do not underestimate the time frame
In 95% of organizational developments, the originally planned time frame is unrealistic.
This starts with the phase shift (time-lapse) between the decision of management and the announcement of that decision. Before the final decision is made, there are many discussions, data is evaluated, consultants are interviewed and trends are developed. These are all activities that are undertaken to support the emotional acceptance of the change by the team. Through this, the reason for change is clarified and the necessity becomes obvious. The time required for employees to discuss and familiarize themselves with the change is often not factored into the process.
A sustainable change in an organization takes about 5 to 7 years to become an integrated part of a corporate culture.
- How urgent is the change?
- How much time is available?
- What does a realistic time schedule look like?
4. Communication, communication, communication and….. communication
„We communicate a lot in our organization but the quality is insufficient/poor?“. This insight from a top decision-maker is especially true for change processes.
Because change is known to evoke emotional responses, the (upper management) top decision makers need to be present to address these concerns directly, offering support and open dialogue to those affected by the change.
This can be unpleasant particularly in the early stages of the change process: Anger and frustration in the form of accusations and confrontations are common. Dealing with these situations can be very challenging, but it is absolutely necessary and should not be avoided.
Top managers need a concept that communicates change, especially in this sensitive phase. Poster actions, distribution of symbols of change (e.g. dice, mini booklets for the wallet) are an important means of support to convey the message, but are far from sufficient.
On-going discussions???/Telling stories about the desired out-come (see item 2) throughout the organization, across the hierarchy, listening to any concerns, and being open for dialogue are imperatives for top managers.
This is work that should not be delegated, regardless of how time consuming or strenuous it maybe/This work can be strenuous and time consuming, but should not be delegated!
- What emotional reactions do we expect?
- How do we deal with emotional reactions in a respectful way?
- What is our approach/strategy? when communication with others?
5. Role-models – desperately needed
In addition to the absolute commitment of top managers, the change agents or the drivers of the change process need to be fully committed.
This commitment must be clarified before the drivers are nominated. It has to be clear that WALK the TALK is part of the game. All those affected in the organization will be watching to see if the change agents are acting in accordance with the new rules. Their decision to support or resist the change will be influenced by what they see./Whether they become followers or not will be influenced by what they see.
Therefore, everybody actively involved in the change process should have a clear and unambiguous answer when approached with the question “what is in it for me/for you/for the organization?”/Therefore, everybody involved in the change process should have a clear and unambiguous understanding of part in the change process?”
- How do we answer the question “what is in it for me?”
- How can we prevent a relapse into old patterns?
- How will we receive feedback and provide updates?
I recently asked a colleague for feedback on this article. She said „nothing has changed in all these years“. And she is right!
So make a difference. Keep the 5 success factors in mind when planning changes.
We guarantee it will be worth it!
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