Here is a troubling fact directly impacting the success of change: The people most affected by changes in their organization are not asked what they think will work best to achieve what the organization needs. Many leaders don’t consider asking for input from target group stakeholders when designing or implementing changes.
Virtually all core functions in organizations are operated as strategic disciplines (e.g., finance, supply chain, marketing and sales, human resources, IT). This means they have consistent practices and protocols, common ways of making decisions and managing information. These disciplines are crucial to having the business function optimally, and reliably, to be able to deliver results.
Leaders of change initiatives often use strategies for change that announce, mandate, threaten, pressure, or expect people to change because the leaders say so. As a strategy to motivate employees, this does not work, people will likely resist or rebel. Or they may make it look like they are going along and then revert to their old ways. Outside-in change strategies, such as executive mandates, top-down communications, or forcefully imposing new practices cause resistance, fear, and anxiety for people. These conditions do not leave people wanting to change or able to change effectively.
One of the costliest mistakes in leading change is for leaders to ask something of the people in their organization and then not do it themselves. Walking the talk of change is not just a nice phrase; it has teeth! Organizational change, especially when it is transformational, sticks to the degree that leaders model it. In transformational change, the “Go change them!” (“and not me mandate!”) just won’t fly.
Research shows that over 60% of transformational change initiatives fail.1 Not adequately addressing culture is one of the primary reasons why. Transformational change often fails because leaders under-attend to their organization’s culture or are not successful in shifting their old culture. Either of these can prevent the desired state from taking hold.
Adoption of a change initiative can be blocked by staunch cultural norms. If leaders see change as strictly “organizational,” and ignore the human and cultural dimensions, it is a recipe for failure. As Jim Collins, author of “Built to Last” and “Good to Great”said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast!” Sadly, multimillion dollar technology installations often don’t deliver their intended ROI because the people (culture) do not embrace the new ways of working that the technology demands.
We have surveyed thousands of leaders and managers about their key risk factors in leading change. By far, having adequate capacity for change is their number one issue. Most report that they have too much change going on and no capacity to lead or execute it successfully. Often, the need to create capacity for change is not even on leaders’ radar. Without adequate capacity, change will fail.
One of the most important variables in leading transformational change initiatives is having an accurate scope of change—what needs to change and how big is the impact. When change leaders can’t see all the implications of what they are asking of the organization, it is common that the scope they identify is too small or only addresses the formal content of the change and leaves out the people dynamics essential to success. Both are essential to plan, resource, and support.
What is a Case for Change?
When you initiate a change in your organization, your stakeholders and leaders will have questions about what is changing, why it is needed, the scope of the change, its urgency, outcomes, etc. Great change leadership starts with your case for change. Your case for change answers these questions so your impacted stakeholders and leaders can understand the purpose for the change initiative.
Change initiatives need the same clear and thoughtful governance as your organization’s operations. It may seem obvious that establishing change governance is important for a change initiative to be successful, but planning for it is often skipped in the rush to get started. Leaders may press for a plan of action that does not include effective governance to get a solution designed and deployed as quickly as possible. This is faulty thinking! Effective governance must be created from the very beginning to enable speed, efficiency, and effectiveness in designing and executing change.
After more than three decades of supporting executives in organizations undergoing transformational change, we are in a unique position to recognize common mistakes in how change is being led across industries. Many of our clients ask how we can so readily name the challenging dynamics they face without having worked inside their organizations. The answer is, these are common mistakes, and they are not unique to any one organization.
Most organizations have many change initiatives occurring at once, in all parts of the organization, large and small – all making demands on people. Employees know they are being asked or pressured to change, but they often do not know why in terms that are meaningful to them. This makes it difficult for them to have a personal commitment to change. Leaders often interpret lack of employee commitment as resistance, but it is more likely stakeholders not understanding why the changes are essential to the success of the business, and importance of their role in it.
Photo Credit: Rich Faber
The absence of an overall initiative alignment and integration strategy results in change being run through multiple, separate, or competing sub-projects. It also results in initiatives being led as independent efforts, even when many may interface or impact one another or the same parts of the organization.This demonstrates a lack of sufficient alignment and integration among all the changes required for an overall change program. Without it, leading transformational change can be more like herding cats. What is needed is making them all a part of one unified effort with an overall change strategy that integrates outcomes, plans, resources, and pace.