Changing The Way Organizations Change
Every person in a changing organization faces 4 challenges when they come to work each day:
- Do the work.
- Manage or help others do the work.
- Change the way you do the work.
- Change the way you change.
The first 3 challenges have existed as long as the organization has existed. The 4th challenge has evolved over the past few decades as the pace of change has grown more complex. This 4th challenge is the sole focus of our work with client organizations.
Changing the way you change is critically important because the historical approaches to implementing change are no adequate in todays rapidly transforming environment. Success rates continue to average between 30 and 50%. The cost of failed change in dollars, time, energy and lost opportunity has become an enormous burden.
Does your organization need to change the way it changes? Start by determining your organizations rate for successful change. Is it average (30-50%), lower or higher? Does it need to improve?
If improvement is essential, determine how much focus and effort every supervisor, manager and executive is putting toward each of the 4 challenges. Simply ask them to consider what percent of their effort was allocated toward each challenge over the past week.
A simple, revealing way to interpret their results is to ask them to combine their scores for challenge 1 & 2. These two challenges refer to work and management. Then combine their scores for challenge 3 & 4. These two challenges refer to leadership and change.
When you compare these two combined scores – work & management and leadership & change – what becomes obvious? I’ve used this quick assessment with thousands of people in various management roles over the years. The results are very consistent. Work & management scores are always higher than leadership & change scores. Often, they are substantially higher. 80% work & management and 20% leadership & change is very common. Small wonder the rates for successful change are so low. Leading change and getting better at leading change are significantly under resourced.
Changing The Way We Change
Organizations can significantly improve their change leadership capacity by going beyond traditional approaches to change. Typical change management models apply people issues to project management. While this may yield some improvement, the gains are marginal.
Changing the way you change requires a systems-based, holistic, integrated approach to leading change. Our unique, practical approach connects the four essential competencies required for successful change:
· Strategy – the ongoing decisions that shape the organizations nature and direction.
· Change – the act of making something different.
· Transition – the internal reorientation of adapting to the changes.
· Communication – the exchange of information required to fully engage everyone.
There are many ways to describe how each of these four dimensions relate to each other:
Let’s look at each of these four competencies in a bit more detail:
Effective Strategic Leadership
All too often, the strategy of the organization is needlessly complex and fully understood by only the senior executives. The essential strategic message must be simplified and fully supported by all levels of leadership. The most important strategic leaders in every changing organization are the first level supervisors. They are the ones constantly fielding questions from their staff such as “why are we doing this change?”.
There are five components to an effective strategic message that will initiate and sustain change over the long haul:
- Realistic Sense of Urgency – truthfully spelling out the major pressures or opportunities facing the organization and the consequences of not addressing them; critically important to overcome inertia.
- Compelling Sense of Hope – the direction or vision for the organization in the future with indicators in place to describe what success needs to look like.
- Mission or Purpose – the description of what the organization does and why it exists.
- Values or Principles – the beliefs that provide guidance for appropriate behaviour.
- Priorities or Strategic Goals – the two or three broad areas the organization will focus on to move toward the vision.
When all five strategic components are simplified and fully engaged throughout the system, the organization is ready to move forward.
Organizational Alignment and Implementing Changes
Changing organizations are often described as chaotic flurries of activity with little forward progress. Here are five criteria for aligning and implementing the changes that will improve the situation:
- All changes align to strategic priorities and vision – every change must clearly support at least one of the strategic priorities. If one doesn’t, it doesn’t get funded.
- Each major change is owned by a senior executive – everyone must know who is holding the organization accountable for the success of each major change.
- Project teams are effective – they represent all parts of the system implementing the change; they use a useful project management methodology; they develop the plan for approval; and they help increase the willingness and ability of the system to implement the plan successfully.
- Middle managers and supervisors are fully engaged – these leaders must be the body, face and voice of the changes at the local work area.
- People know what they must do differently – the new attitudes and behaviours are clearly spelled out to everyone by their immediate boss.
Lead People Through Transition
Transition is the area most often overlooked and misunderstood by leaders in changing organizations. Helping people adapt to the new reality trying to take shape does not need to be mysterious or difficult.
Change is an external event. Transition is the internal reorientation. There are three phases of transition that leaders must help everyone through if the change is going to succeed.
- Intentional separation – requires leaders to spell out what is over now and what isn’t. Clear boundary messages must leave no doubt as to what must be left behind and what will come forward.
- Leading people through the in between – involves helping everyone get through the confusion and learn what is required to ensure the changes succeed. Leaders must put extra effort into maintaining high trust levels and providing a variety of supports that enhance creativity, innovation and learning.
- Ensuring a successful integration – means leaders highlight small signs of success as they show up. Formal and informal rewards must fully support the new behaviours and attitudes.
Enhance Change Communication Everywhere
Leaders in every changing organization understand the importance of communication. Most under estimate what it really takes to fully engage everyone throughout the system with the information and motivation required to ensure the sustained success of all the changes.
Here are a few essentials for enhancing communication in your changing organization:
1. Avoid over reliance on technology – broadcast emails, project web sites and social media campaigns all have a short lift span and very limited capacity to motivate anyone to change.
2. Assess effectiveness of communication frequently – use a simple assessment to gauge levels of Awareness, Understanding, Commitment and Action for every stakeholder group to track where progress is taking place and where more communication effort is required.
3. Connect the communication trinity – three groups must take enduring ownership for change communication – project teams (most current detailed change information), senior executives (power and authority), and first level supervisors (ongoing trusted access to employees).
4. Simplify all change messages – ensure all strategy, change and transition related messages are condensed into one-page speaking notes so everyone gets on the same page.
5. Never under estimate the power of face-to-face communication – when senior executives attend all manager meetings – when project teams show up to staff meetings – when first level supervisors have one on one conversations struggling with the changes, roadblocks come down while information and motivation starts flowing in the right direction.
Change the Way Your Organization Changes
Would your organization benefit from getting better at the way it changes? Would you like to help? If your answer is yes, here’s what you can do:
- Start with the strategy – without a solid strategic foundation, successful change will never be sustained.
- Initiate communication efforts – focused on ensuring everyone understands the urgency, desired direction and proposed plans to get there.
- Align and implement the changes – ensure all change support priorities and are getting planned and implemented correctly.
- Expand communication efforts – there is no such thing as too much effective communication as the activity levels build.
- Help everyone adapt – intentionally leading everyone through transition ensures they come through all the chaos in good share and the changes are fully integrated into the new way things are done in your organization.
- Sustain communication efforts – keep track of where everyone is on the journey from the old world to the new world and provide them with the information they need to keep moving in the right direction.
As you begin to apply these ideas into your organization, you will see the situation start to improve – not overnight, but it will improve. Be patient and persistent.
Let me know if I can help. Over the years I’ve helped hundreds of organizations in every sector change the way they change. I can help yours.