Constant change is a business reality for everyone. The current work environment is that organisations must continually adapt to stay competitive, or risk becoming ineffective, or even obsolete. It’s why skills in change management are increasingly sought after.
Still, studies show that in most organisations, two out of three change initiatives fail.
The more things change, the more they stay the same - and in some organisations the more resistant people become to change.
Managing change is tough. Part of the issue is that people disagree on what models should be used for the most effective change and what factors influence change initiatives the most. Ask a bunch of executives in a room to name the one factor critical for the success of these programs, and you’ll get completely different answers. This is part of the reason why change initiatives sometimes conflict or simply do not get off the ground. It’s hard to be successful when people can’t agree and everyone
has a better idea than their colleague on how to tackle the issue.
In my early career I was part of a restructuring process in government where we ‘sold’ the change and it worked well. We even won an award but when we faced another change process we tried it again and it failed. BIG TIME! Selling change is probably the worst approach you could take and I learnt from this, but what I also learnt was that every change process is different and requires a customised approach.
The Australian Change Management Institute has been working hard to streamline the thoughts and processes of change management into a clear and coherent approach but still it’s a difficult task with no definitive ‘one approach’ that can be held up as the holy grail.
Emily Lawson and Colin Price from management firm McKinsey provided a holistic perspective in The Psychology of Change Management in 2003 which suggests that four basic conditions are necessary before employees will change their behavior: a) a compelling story, because employees must see the point of the change and agree with it; b) role modeling, because they must also see the CEO and colleagues they admire behaving in the new way; c) reinforcing mechanisms, because systems,
processes, and incentives must be in line with the new behavior; and d) capability building, because employees must have the skills required to make the desired changes.
This approach is heavily people focussed and I agree, the key is to put people first. By all means when implementing change choose a model that fits best and if you have the power to implement the model across an entire organisation and influence people to follow the one change management system then that’s quite an achievement!
However, even then you need to cater for the 80:20 rule. People will always need to put their own mark on the process and so you’ll find in a good change management project about 80% of the change is standardised reform that has been reached through consensus (or mandated through administrative orders) and there is a 20% variance.
This variance is necessary. It’d make life easier if we were, but we’re not all the same.
Management will need to feel they have their own influence over the process and their will be end users who accept the majority but still want their special, unique and different circumstances acknowledged – and there are lots of these. So when designing a change management process, instead of aiming for 100% exact implementation across all stakeholders and processes, see how you can achieve a 20% customisation rate (or greater) from the start and you’ll find the process will be more successful and run more smoothly than if you try and force people to do things 100% your way.
You need to consult and hold workshops and achieve consensus. This is critical, and you have to listen, and integrate the feedback into your plan, but even when you have an agreed model that you think people are 100% committed to – you’ll find that there will be hiccups in it that will need tailoring for a specific region or work group, and some people will secretly agree and then work behind the scenes to undo your hard work. Factor 20% variance in and your change project is more likely to be successful.
In my change management work I use a range of methodologies and models based on individual client needs but essentially the people perspective is the key. There’s no point in implementing a new software system if no-one uses it and there’s no point in introducing new reporting lines within an organisation if people still see their old boss for information, tasking and guidance. As an example of the 80:20, maybe the solution for the new reporting lines is for people to report to the new boss but give them scope to also mentor from old bosses if they wish, or still be invited to events held by previous teams. Don’t drag them kicking and screaming into the new structure – give them the ability to maintain their old links and they will develop a desire to embrace the new system. People don’t like uncertainty and small initiatives like this will put them in a more accepting frame of mind for the change.
As the pace of change continues to increase, an organisation’s capability to change will become a necessary requirement for success and sustainment. The workplaces that are investing in their people, as well as change capabilities, support and programs are more likely to capitalise on future opportunities.
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