How Can Successful Change Management be Achieved?
Last year I was interviewed for a podcast where I was asked what about the biggest challenges I have observed with digital transformation. Some of the options presented to me were choosing the right methodology, talent, picking the right toolset, training and metrics. I acknowledged that those were certainly action items to keep on our radar, but to me the biggest challenge was our ability to shift the organizational mindset to embrace change by understanding the ‘what is changing’ and ‘why does it matter’. I have seen many organizations pursue transformation programs by chasing the actions that are more visible such as methodology and tools while a conversation on culture and change management is rarely even a line item on the plan.
Change management is typically not an area that organically invites many volunteers on transformation programs and therefore it should be a higher priority for leaders. In some organizations, I have seen change management being entirely outsourced because there is a belief that outsiders have a higher chance of influencing change. While it is helpful to have change management consultants mentor and coach leaders and managers, it is critical for the staff to see their leaders and managers lead the change. According to a McKinsey & Co. study, 70 percent of change programs fail to achieve their goals, largely due to employee resistance and lack of management support. The study further adds that when people are truly invested in change it is 30 percent more likely to stick. As the old adage goes, “be the change” is the simplest yet the most effective principle of change management.
In recent years, we have seen stories from early adopters of digital transformation and agile ways of working that they learned the hard way that seeing lasting outcomes from the changes and to sustain the initial interest and enthusiasm is no easy task. This is where change management comes in as real transformative change is about people, value systems and mindsets. While it might be tempting to associate transformation with apps, automation and tools sustainable transformation whose outcomes have an impact on hard and soft metrics, is really about people. If people believe in the change by seeing incremental and ongoing value realized then the probability of success jumps exponentially.
The only change framework that I have used for many years is Kotter’s 8-Step change model. I was introduced to this process by Dr. John Kotter’s groundbreaking work (and book) on ‘Leading Change’. As shown in the visual below, Kotter’s eight steps are anchored on the ‘Big Opportunity’ that is driving the changes. In many organizations, leaders and managers don’t invest enough time to frame their initiative within the context of a big opportunity. As a result, their teams are overwhelmed when the focus of change conversations is mostly centered on the volume of tasks that should be accomplished within a pre-determined timeframe. Imagine this situation to telling your family that they have to be ready for relocating to a new city in the next 2 weeks and the only context you provide is that “its going to be just great”. I don’t have to explain the imminent reaction!
Effective change management requires leaders and managers to invest time in framing the big opportunity and to build a coalition of change agents who can be pragmatic partners in enabling adoption throughout the organization. It is also important to secure buy-in from teams by planning for and demonstrating small wins so that there is improved visibility on ‘why do these changes matter’. I have to emphasize that change management cannot be done through PowerPoint or by publishing big updates to intranet locations. While internal social tools such as Slack can be very handy to push periodic updates on the program, stories on quick wins, testimonials from teams etc., the most effective tool is storytelling through conversations. Change management needs to be a social initiative and is also an exercise in building trust. Therefore, it important to humanize the what, why and who associated with the change initiative so that teams are excited about being part of the change and are willing to inspire their peers.
In a recent Forbes article focused on must-have CIO skills, the authors say that “CIOs have to learn to move from ‘trusted operators’ focusing on efficiency and cost to ‘change instigators’ and ‘business co-creators.”. This is consistent with several recent surveys and studies regarding adoption of agile technology delivery to large digital transformation initiatives. There is clearly a realization in most organizations that investment and commitment to soft initiatives such as change management is critical to energize the people for driving sustained growth, scale and competitive advantage.
After so many years of being dubbed as a topic for MBAs and management journals, I am excited to see organizations and teams look at change management as a core organizational capability. Change management is no longer tagged to a couple of roles. Impactful change can happen only when everyone in the organization is a change agent and commits to being the change. Now that change management is cool again, I have to recognize this achievement by giving it the #SOCOOL hashtag!
Change management is about creating a culture which is comfortable with change. Which translates into a culture of becoming comfortable being uncomfortable. The pace and cadence of Industry 4.0 technology advances often means that software interfaces, and hence machine capabilities, are continuously changing. However, their human co-worker counterparts are not so versatile. Why? Because being comfortable and complacent with the way things are is a human attribute, not a software or equipment one.
Achieving successful change management starts with hiring practices and human capital strategy. Instead of an HR department using a procurement model (I need one more data scientist or CNC operator), what happens when employees also are hired based on their receptivity to change? When that happens, the workforce persona is more proactive, anticipatory, strategic and innovative. Rather than remaining ready to react to a tactical issue which might have been prevented.
Successful change management continues with retooling and recalibrating current employees, who initially were hired as reactive order-takers to, instead, become innovators. Making it “OK” to question processes, practices and decision making and, in turn, offering their own ideas, processes and insights. Create an inclusive and collaborative workforce culture. Rather than continuing to exclude or marginalize employees due to differences in education, pay scale, employment tier, you name it.
Taking small steps forward, and capturing and quantifying their impact on productivity and profitability, reinforces the impact that people make on the processes, software interfaces and machinery side of Industry40 transformation.
Change is inevitable. People resist when they perceive their roles as inconsequential in often profit-driven corporate cultures. When Change itself becomes a valued human attribute, then the culture moves from an age of mass production cultural model towards an Industry40, proactive and change-based one. Taking the first step requires brave leadership decision making, to drive change-driven cultural transformation. Are your leaders ready to take that first step forward, one millimeter beyond their current comfort level?
Another popular saying regarding change resistance is that the only people who like change are babies (infants). But change is constant, and the rate of change in today’s world is ever increasing. A mathematical model representing change acceptance is Q x A = E, where Q is the qualitative (technical) solution, A is the acceptance of change, and E equals the effectiveness of the project.
The successful change project recognizes that the team, stakeholders, influencers and the people directly impacted by the proposed change must first understand the change and how it affects them; their reservations, concerns and resistance must be acknowledged and addressed, and they must all embrace the change.
In an article titled “The 7 Dynamics of Change”, Kenneth Blanchard, author of The One Minute Manager, wrote that people:
- feel awkward, ill-at-ease, self-conscious or fearful about change
- focus on what they think they will have to give up
- feel alone, even if others are going through the same change
- are at different levels of readiness for change
- can handle only so much change
- are concerned they do not have enough resources to cope with the change
- will naturally revert to old behaviors if given the opportunity.
The change adoption (aka rate of diffusion) curve illustrates the impact of change readiness.
Given the variability in change effectiveness, what strategies can be deployed to improve readiness and acceptance? GE developed its Change Acceleration Process (CAP) in 1992 as part of its overall strategy to improve its competitive advantage. GE’s CAP is a set of tools designed to accelerate and increase change effectiveness:
- create a shared need for the change
- understand and deal with resistance
- mobilize commitment by building an effective influence strategy
- continuous communication plan
- address both the technical and human change strategies
The high-level GE CAP Model is shown below.
In an article published by Fast Company magazine (2008), author Dan Feliciano states, “It’s not that people don’t like change… they don’t like ambiguity and punishment.” Dan offers, “Organizations need to focus on creating and communicating strategies to the employees… by creating goals, objectives, measures, targets, and identifying and resourcing key initiatives for your organization and then cascading the measure and initiatives to every person throughout the organization.”
Building an influence strategy not only involves the engagement of the organization’s leaders and managers, but also identifying the presence of any “Keyhubs” within the ranks of its employees. A keyhub is an individual, not on the org chart, who’s experience/ opinion/ insight is highly sought after and respected by peers and colleagues. “Understanding these informal networks enables leaders to align the organization with its strategic direction and move more quickly and effectively. Once you get the culture, you can execute on strategy [and change] with greater ease and efficiency”, Vikas Narula (@NarulaTweets), Creator and Co-Founder of Keyhubs (@Keyhubs).
Finally, holding the gains of any change effort requires the implementing of Systems and Structures that reward desired behaviors resulting in successful results, while making it difficult and even painful (more effort) to revert to old behaviors. Desired behaviors must be modeled by the organization’s leaders. Such behaviors will create the experiences necessary to instill the right beliefs leading to sustainable culture change. (Journey to the Emerald City by Roger Connors and Tom Smith).
You can try to push change in an ad hoc basis by adopting some strategies to create a similar feeling about the individual change effort. But that isn’t as effective as establishing them in the culture are. Strategies such as: going the gemba, pdsa, build trust via respect for people…
These tools and concepts build trust within the organization. The do that by showing people are respected and that the change effort isn’t just another in the long line of wasted effort for ineffectual change. The first part can be addressed, normally the second part can’t be addressed effectively. Often that is at the core of the issue with why the change effort isn’t working
Very few organizations take the nearly enough time to train and educate employees. If you want to create a culture of continual learning and improvement you almost certainly need to focus much more on education and learning than you are. Education can be formal but also focusing on learning as you apply quality tools is extremely useful and very overlooked. Coaching is a big part of doing this well, but coaching is another thing that is massively under-appreciated. Most supervisors and managers should be spending much more time coaching than they are.
Building the capacity of the organization to successfully adopt improvements will directly aid change efforts and also will build confidence that efforts to change are worthwhile and not, as with so many organizations, just busy work. People will be skeptical if they have a good reason to be so, and poor management practices found in many organizations give people plenty of reason to be skeptical that their efforts to improve will be successful.
One of the most costly mistakes in management is neglecting methods that have been known for a long time due to the mistake belief that if it was better everyone would already be doing it. Plenty of better management practices exist. All you have to do to gain an advantage is start using them.
I believe the best way to communicate such changes are to explain how they tie into the long term vision of the organization. This requires that such a vision actually exists (which is often not the case). Then all strategies are communicated based on how they support and integrate with that vision. In addition that communication strategy incorporates an understanding about what weaknesses with past practices are addressed by this new strategy.
On some current issue, I may have a very low chance of success for getting the organization to adopt an improvement I think is best. But certain actions can build the understanding that will allow me later to have more influence. This can even be completely separate from how people normally think of circle of influence. By building an organization that moves toward data based decision making and therefore reduces HiPPO (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion) decision making I increase my ability to influence decision making in the future.
Long term thinking is a very powerful, and much under-practiced, strategy. Your influence within an organization is limited today but has great potential to expand, if you act wisely.
There are many approaches to Change Management – the Prosci “ADKAR” method and the “Bridges” method are quite popular right now. My favorite, tried and true method is John Kotter’s 8 steps to change. There’s a simple truth behind it: people change what they do, not because they are given an analysis that changes their thinking, but because they are shown a truth that influences their feelings (Kotter, 2002).
1.create urgency – the proverbial “burning platform”. So many executives want to downplay problems, to avoid panicking staff – they should be doing the opposite. Create a shared understanding of the problem, and why it needs to be solved using different methods than those used in the past.
2.create a guiding coalition – those who really understand and feel the pain of the problem, and are best situated or prepared to lead the organization through change.
3.create a vision of where you want to obtain or achieve. Not some vague statement like “become a world-class organization” (yawn), but something elegant, specific and motivating. For example, when Steve Jobs was leading the development of the ipod, he referred to it as “a million songs in your pocket”.
4.communicate to get buy-in. The goal with communication should be to catalyze people to action, not just keep them informed. Acknowledge what people may be feeling, like anxiety, excitement, confusion, pride or anger. One thing I’ve found to be very effective is to share examples of employees successfully “living the change”. Keep communications simple, heartfelt, and frequent.
5.empower change agents. Change agents are leaders (with a formal title or not) within the organization who have the ability and inclination to move the organization towards its vision from step 3. Remember that you can’t hand out power in a gift bag – empowerment means providing an environment where people realize they are empowered. For control freaks like me, this is VERY uncomfortable. But if you have good change agents, the results can be amazing.
6.celebrate short-term wins. These wins will build credibility and momentum for the longer-term effort. Without them, the cynics and nay-sayers can sink any effort.
7.keep going. It’s easy, after a few short-term wins, to declare victory and become complacent. Or, you may reach a point in your change journey where you feel as if you’ve been doing this forever and you wonder if your organization is really any better off than when you started. This is what Gartner refers to as the “trough of disillusionment”. Use the momentum from step six to start tackling the tougher, more deep-rooted problems in your organization. Don’t let up.
8.sustain the gains. Re-inforce the changes you’ve made through promotions, new employee on-boarding, and employee incentives. Don’t let old habits rise up and swallow your work. While you can’t silence the cynics and pessimists, you can drown them out with messages and activities designed to support the changes you’ve made.
Change management is about shifting people’s behavior. And the key to this shift is to engage people emotionally. It’s messy, but it’s the only way to bring about meaningful, long-term change. Wishing you the best of luck with your change management projects!
For a big organizational change to be successful, you really need to get everyone committed to the process. People tend to resist for many reasons, whether the implementation is a new policy, procedure, system, or some other form of restructure. There are some steps you can take to help get everyone on board and ensure a smooth process:
- Be open about the magnitude – Make sure individuals understand the magnitude of the change and how their roles will be affected.
- Communicate the long-term benefits – It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the possible short-term increase in work, so try to stay focused on how the change will benefit the team in the long-run.
- Handpick your champions – People will naturally follow those they respect, so encourage the ones who are already on board to spread the positivity (note: they won’t, and probably shouldn’t, be executives).
- Give everyone a way to participate – This one is crucial to getting everyone’s contribution. Give them a way to participate in improving on the change. Not only is this valuable feedback for management, but change should feel like a journey everyone is taking together, not a destination you handed them. You can gather suggestions, feedback, and improvement ideas with the use of surveys, meetings, forums, or software designed to facilitate change management.
- Celebrate wins, even if they’re small – Change doesn’t stop at implementation. Show your team the results of the change as they happen and how their participation makes a difference.
Changes are more common now than ever, companies are going through changes all the time. It’s a new product, a new leadership team, a new safety program in place, new clients or new suppliers. The only constant is change. Understanding how to be agile to achieve successful change management has become a key skill to run a successful company, is not only for a big one-time project only.
Agile companies embrace constant change by disaggregating every project into small batches performed by small autonomous teams, developing leaders that are more facilitators of success than almighty heroes and providing support to the employees in the way of training, monitoring tools, verification, and communication.
The big problem with change is usually that people try to avoid it. People fear what they don’t know. So the greater challenge for companies is to work on how to make them feel safe about the change. And what is exactly that? You need to build a culture that provides them support. You need to care about the employees, how they feel and how they think. I call it the CARES culture. That helps employees getting ownership on the job, autonomy and therefore, more engagement to change.
A topic that has been central to my work and teaching for many years. The shortest valuable resource I know for informing change, is the award-winning HBR article by Snowden and Boone, entitled “A Leader’s Framework For Decision-Making.” This builds on the understanding that not all systems and challenges are the same. There are problems whose solution is obvious and known to all. There are problems for which experts have highly-reliable solutions. But there are many kinds of problems and systems whose nature is uncertain, ambiguous, and complex. Each type of system and situation have a different optimal pattern of response. Today’s leaders sadly continue to avoid learning this, and too many change efforts fail (the Wall Street Journal once reported the failure rate at 75%). Leaders must overcome fear in its many forms, in order to explore the uncharted space of possibility in the face of truly complex situations I’d also urge leaders to revisit the fundamental teachings of W. Edwards Deming. Far more than the statistician who tweaked the Shewhart cycle and brought TQM to the fore, Deming’s emphasis on “profound knowledge” and his “14 Points” for managers and leaders, reflect a deep understanding of the dynamical nature of organizations. Mary Walton’s book “The Deming Management Method” is an excellent place to start.
To “cultivate readiness” requires the added skills of crafting and sharing a powerfully resonant, coherent narrative. What is the story of the leader’s and organization’s intentions? Of their vision and strategy? Of the methods of dialogue and coordinated action that will include all, and adapt to emergent patterns of the situation? Readiness comes from developing and practicing the ways of flexibility and adaptability. These come from the capacities for curiosity, courage, inquiry, reflection, and learning. All of which are predicated on the capacity for rational cognition. We don’t “manage change” so much as we remove the fear of failure associated with trying multiple options. We encourage all to think, ask, listen, learn, and try together. “Continuously improving” not just the quality of the organization’s output, but the quality of its people’s capacity to change and improve.
In 2006 I gave a presentation at the ASQ conference to a standing-room audience on “a new definition of quality and the changing role of leadership.” The slides are on my slideshare page.
In 2010, the HD&L Division of ASQ published my Primer on Complexity and Quality Improvement.
When the management team identifies a need for change, it’s important to also manage that change. Just remember this: CHANGE MANAGEMENT is DIFFICULT, but VERY IMPORTANT, and without full support (commitment) of managers and employees it will FAIL.
All companies have to deal with change. You can’t hide or run from it. Change has to do with competitiveness, so you have to constantly keep changing if you want to survive. In other words, change is inevitable.
Another aspect that is almost inevitable is, resistance to change. Change is NOT easy for people (It’s human nature), so getting everyone on board is challenging. The success of change depends upon the people.
Strategies to help achieve successful change management.
Start with an Objective: Where do you want to be?
Remember your objective must be aligned with your company mission and future vision.
Communicate to your employees: Why the need for Change?
Getting everyone on board is very important. Remember to listen (listen to as many people as possible) to your employees concerns; ask for their input. Be open, honest, and keep an open communication channel.
Support your people through the change.
Is there a need for additional training? Do your employees have the right tools for the Job? Do we need new systems, new methods?
Learn as you GO
When you lead your organization through change, new and unexpected challenges will definitely arise. So you need to change /adapt to those challenges. Review, and continuously improve your change management process.