Businesses and workers today are encountering an ever-increasing pace and demand for change. Advances in technology and other market pressures continue to force companies to face the prospect that they must transform or die. Given this environment, it sometimes surprises me to hear comments from customers and prospects that seem to show their lack of appreciation and understanding for managing the people side of organizational change management.
“We don’t need change management here.” “It’s too soft and mushy.” “I don’t see the value.” These are some of the complaints I’ve heard in early conversations with customers as they consider change management services a part of a large, complex systems implementation or overall business transformation. Even after purchasing services and landing consultants on the ground, I continue to hear questions like, “When I hire outside consultants to support my initiatives, what should I expect from them?” or “I have a few consultants onboard, and I don’t see anything tangible from what they are doing!” This is understandable if the consultants are not engaged in value-added efforts. It is not as understandable when the comments arise from a lack of knowledge about change management or the desire to focus on the more “tangible” parts of change, like technology and the aspiration for immediate results.
In all this confusion about what organizational change management is and what it is not, businesses stand to lose progress on key growth strategies while the success of vital strategic initiatives hangs in the balance. For the sake of clarity and better understanding, I offer the below 10 aims for OCM success. Before we get there though, let us quickly align with a basic definition.
In the HBR article, “Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail,” John Kotter shares that the basic purpose of change management is “to make fundamental change in how business is conducted in order to help cope with a new, more challenging market environment.” Kotter also shared an important benefit: “Your org flexes with tectonic shifts in competitors, markets, and tech—leaving rivals far behind.” In today’s environment, who does not want to achieve that? Let us dive into my top 10 aims of successful organizational change management initiatives:
1. People-First Focus & Journey Mindset
- Get clear that without the effective mobilization of people, no transformation, no systems implementation will be successful. If this is not a strength of senior leadership or embedded in the organizational culture, get help! This will help build trust, a much-needed component of change success.
- Use the power of persuasion. “Persuasion promotes understanding, understanding breeds acceptance, acceptance leads to action.” (Garvin & Roberto, Change Through Persuasion)
- Change does NOT happen overnight. It is a journey, but begin early! Change is also a process, much like a grief process experienced by human beings. The great poet Robert Frost wrote, “The only way out is through.” The same applies for moving forward. You cannot skip stages, as they build and shortcuts do not work.
Keywords: Mobilization, Persuasion, Awareness
2. Sense of Urgency
- Leaders must internalize the old saying that the pain of staying the same must be perceived as being as worse than the pain involved in change.
- People need the motivation to get out of their comfort zones, so one key to success is making sure Urgency = High & Intense. Remember that urgency need not be manufactured when business is bad, but it can harder to impart a sense of urgency when it is already going well. Creating a sense of urgency helps drive awareness and desire.
- Plan for the fact that it is hard to get people to change, especially in organizations that have experienced a long line of leaders who have failed to produce change outcomes.
Keywords: Impactful, Motivation, Urgency, Desire
3. Visionary Direction
- When setting visionary direction, it is important to capture the hearts and minds of the troops. The vision and direction need to be powerful and clear—part art and part science, or “analytical thinking and a little dreaming” as Kotter puts it. This vision should be a clear story that you can communicate to someone in 5 minutes or less. Think of an elevator pitch. You should be able to explain the vision and direction to a colleague in a short elevator ride.
- Once you set the direction, you must watch that behavior matches your words at each level of the organization. Nothing undermines change more than a lack of integrity in this regard when leaders do not walk the talk.
- Creating and communicating vision and direction continues to help teams and individuals drive awareness and desire, and helps manage resistance.
Keywords: Sponsorship, Direction, Vision, Mission and Guiding Principles, Clear Story and Context
4. Aligned Leaders
- According to Kotter, some organizations failed due to not creating a powerful enough “guiding coalition” or coalition of leaders.
- A high sense of urgency may assist you in developing a coalition.
- The coalition of leaders must have a shared commitment to helping achieve the outcomes the change is intended to produce.
Keywords: Guiding Coalition, Groups of Leaders, Communications, Trust, Shared Vision
5. Culture of Trust
- According to Simon Sinek, First Why, Then Trust: “When we’re surrounded by people who believe what we believe something remarkable happens: Trust emerges….Trust comes from a sense of common values and beliefs.”
- Studies have shown that many individuals cite breach of trust as the main reason for leaving their jobs.
- For those in the workforce that stay in their jobs, getting out of their comfort zones depends highly on their ability to trust others in the organization.
Keywords: Trust, Common Values
6. Effective Teamwork
- It is paramount that all employees are pulling in the same direction, running at the speed of the fastest runner, not at the speed of the leader (McKinney Rogers HPT) to help drive the change required for maximum performance of the organization.
- Many leaders, especially those used to working in silos, often have a poor record of working together on teams. If left unaddressed, this can pose a serious threat to success.
- Applying the time, effort, and focus necessary to build the memory muscle around teaming across the organization is crucial to success.
Keywords: Project Team Effectiveness, Change Agent Network
7. Continuous Communications
- Without effective, frequent, constant communications, gaining commitment to change will be nearly impossible, so prioritize communications in your change efforts accordingly.
- Pay close attention to the appropriateness of the communications and the degree to which they focus on the what, why, how, and “What’s in it for me” (WIIFM). Create a good feedback loop and evaluate your methods.
- Use all current channels and experiment with new, creative channels—such as text alerts.
Keywords: Communications, Creativity
8. Mitigated Risks
- Another definition of organizational change management is “a systematic process that mitigates risks and leverages change as a resource to create success” (from the HBR article, “Managing Risks: A New Framework” by Robert S. Kaplan and Anette Mikes).
- According to Prosci (Prosci OCM Studies), in three of the last five change management best practices studies, the use of a structured approach to change management was cited as the second greatest contributor to success (behind only active and visible executive sponsorship).
- An effective change management program will help mitigate risk and can be “sold” with this understanding.
- Feedback loops from communications and change agent networks help reduce risk.
Keywords: Mitigated Risks, Risk Management
9. Commitment is better than Compliance
- When employees are committed to the change, they are ready, willing, and able to make the change a success. They will seek continuous improvement opportunities.
- If they have not been involved in the process and are complying just because they think they have to, then you get a lack of willingness to help solve problems and make the system better. The ability to sustain the new system and processes is in jeopardy.
- Communications plays a key role in driving commitment.
- Capability development, training, super-user network, and end-user adoption needs must be addressed.
- Process and other change impacts must be understood and communicated.
10. Institutionalized Change in Corporate Culture
- Change is a journey, not a destination.
- Celebrate success; this takes some planning (celebrating quick wins throughout the journey). Recognizing both individuals and the team is important for morale and momentum.
- Reinforcement is critical for sustainment.
Keywords: Reinforcement, Celebrate Success
We would love to hear about your change stories, as well as anything that you believe is crucial to OCM success. Let us know in the comment section below.