One of the toughest challenges leaders face is making change work, from building initial momentum to sustaining change long term. Why is successful, effective change so elusive, even when led by bright, passionate people?
Leading effective and lasting change is not easy, simple or quick. Part of the reasons change efforts fall short is due to our desire to make things happen quickly. In addition, change implementation requires a wide array of leadership skills, a fact well demonstrated in McKinsey & Company’s survey, “Why Implementation Matters,” which concisely describes components and benefits of effective change management.
Still, as on-target as McKinsey’s insights are, the findings of the survey feel incomplete; for example, alignment with business strategy was not strongly emphasized as a critical aspect of organizational change, though our experience shows it is. We decided to leverage McKinsey’s valuable survey findings in combination with our own research and experience, to produce the following four recommendations for leading and sustaining organization change.
1. Enable people throughout the organization to take ownership and commit to change.
- The business strategy must be at the core of change, serving as the context for and providing a compelling reason for organizational change. Aligning changes with the business strategy sets a context for change, helping employees throughout the organization to see how each change fits into the bigger picture and supports the organization’s success. It enables leaders are able to focus the organization on a prioritized, integrated set of changes.
- People support decisions they help to make. Early communication and involvement of those who will be affected by change is needed to generate buy-in. Discussions are most effective when they start to happen early enough so that stakeholders can provide input that shapes change decisions and plans from square one on. These early interactive communications require leaders to really listen and helps them to build an organization-wide perspective and to leverage a body of knowledge.
2. Keep change on track.
- Remember to consider the human dynamics of change. Through one-on-one and group discussions, anticipate the positive and negative impact the change will have on people, work relationships, other organizational processes, and job content. Discuss change decisions and plans thoroughly, soliciting input from stakeholders about obstacles, solutions, gaps, and hidden impacts. Whenever possible, find ways to off-set negative impact on people.
- Disable and remove symbols and tools associated with the past ways of doing things. This compels people to focus on the new by letting go. For example, removing old logos and symbols of the past when acquiring a company; or, on a simpler scale, plan ahead and communicate the launch of a software implementations that replaces other system(s) or procedure(s) — including setting the date to flip the switch.
- Monitor progress often enough so that adjustments, tweaks and improvements can be made during implementation. Sometimes alternatives will need to be identified quickly to improve the effectiveness of change.
- Keep people accountable. Provide timely feedback to groups and to individuals one-on-one, on what’s going well and to build and sustain accountability. Continuously evaluate and ensure that the organization is providing adequate resources and capabilities to execute change.
3. Celebrate milestones achieved, and recognize people and teams for progress, efforts and results; and build enthusiasm and clarity on the next milestone.
- Continue to measure and communicate about the impact, the effectiveness and the ROI of change, for at least 1 year following the change.
- Sharing information on the results of change initiatives completed reinforces the value of change.
- Recognizing individuals and teams continues to bring people closer and strengthen relationships throughout the organization
4. Remember to plan for resources as needed to support the change until it is tightly woven into the fabric of the organization.
- Haven’t we all experienced, at some point, the state of overwhelm caused when an organization tries to make changes too rapidly, leaving one change process incomplete to move on to the next? Planning for both the short and long term helps leaders to prevent organization overwhelm.
- Planning of resources surfaces information about what everyone is working on, to consider the “regular” work people are doing to achieve goals as well as to measure the status of the installation of a current change initiative. This data enables leaders to assess progress and to understand the readiness of the organization to take on the next change.
These recommendations are intended to help leaders to balance organization priorities and effectively plan changes with timelines that are doable, enabling their people to lock in each change. You may have additional thoughts to share. Comments are welcome!
We thank you for taking the time to read our article — and we wish you all great success in 2019 – and beyond, through a new and increasing capacity for leading and sustaining change.