Writing about change is an open invitation to roll out any number of cliches. While many of these change describers are to varying degrees true and accurate, I’m of the view that change is a fundamental strand inside each and every organisation’s DNA. Change is not something an organisation endures or embarks upon over and above its ‘real business’; change is certainly an integrated and vital part of an organisation’s business. Therefore developing, delivering, implementing and following through organisational change is a fundamental skill required at all levels within an organisation. Why does change therefore often not live up to our expectations or indeed fail entirely? The answer probably lies in our own belief systems.
Contrary to what some managers and leaders must think, the ability to make change happen and make it stick is for the most of us not an innate skill. Rather than being something intuitive, change is an acquired skill. And that skill is most effectively deployed when those charged with delivering change recognise know and understand that there are steps to be followed with a number of defined phases and stages. Without a basic level of ‘change knowledge’, most people will stumble on and probably get some of the outcomes desired. However they and/or their bosses are likely to be disappointed and there’s a better than average chance that such introduced change won’t bed in for the long term; it won’t stick. Often that’s due to the rubber-band principle; we all know what happens when the energy applied to keeping a rubber band stretched is removed. John Kotter in his book Leading Change describes an eight-stage process to change:
- Establishing a sense of urgency
- Creating the guiding coalition
- Developing a vision and strategy
- Communication the change vision
- Empowering employees for broad-based action
- Generating short term wins
- Consolidating gains and producing more change
- Anchoring new approaches in the culture
Change-failure can often be put down to one or more of these stages simply being totally passed by. Especially the earlier and often softer stages, such as underestimating the power of vision. It’s all very well instructing a work force to just get on and do it but this command-and-control approach fails to appreciate the power and cunning of the forces of inertia.
Again according to Kotter and certainly reflected in my own experience, an organisation of 100 employees needs at least 2 dozen active leaders and zealots in order to produce significant and lasting change. For an organisation of 100,000, that might translate to 15,000 people totally behind making it happen. And you don’t get that sort of commitment by issuing a memo.
So my message is quite simple. If you want your intended change to happen the way you want it to, do it properly. School yourself up on what you need to know. Or bring in an expert who can help you with your change initiative, and also transfer some skills and knowledge back into your organisation. Put a change plan together which addresses each of the key stages and follow that plan.
Of course you’ll have plenty of chances to skip steps or stages you don’t really think are necessary. These will more than likely be the same items that will appear on your list of ‘why it all went wrong’ when you’re asked by your boss to provide a post-mortem report on the outcome you were meant to deliver – but didn’t!
I’m certainly a fan of John Kotter and others who teach similar approaches; simply because these approaches work. If you and/or your organisation would benefit from some help with any part of your change objectives, I’d be happy to hear from you. firstname.lastname@example.org