Monday, November 28, 2011

8 Reasons Why Change Efforts Succeed or Fail

This month we'll take a look at eight reasons why change either works or doesn't work in an organizational setting.  Each of these eight items has two sides: perform them well and succeed, or ignore or do them half-heartedly and fail. 

The list comes to us courtesy of JP Kotter from his book Leading Change.  Notice the themes of communication, structural systems, and alignment.

1. Demonstrating a sense of urgency.  To ensure success in change management it is important to communicate that that the change must happen.  This isn't a "boy, wouldn't it would be nice if..." situation, it's a "hey guys, we better move in this direction right now or we're in trouble!"  To do this, a clear message must be communicated from the top of the organization right down through.  When everyone understands, they all become aligned toward the same goal: the change effort.

2. Building a strong change coalition.  This means that the right people in the right positions with the right "critical mass" have to be in place (aligned) to make it work.  A change effort follows the same simple laws of physics: for each action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and inertia is a significant obstacle to overcome.  Who will be the champions of the effort in your organization?  Who will build and maintain that momentum needed to pull everyone else along until they jump on board?  Are there enough in high positions?  In key influence areas?  Build your coalition with skill because it can make or break the overall effort.  Knowing where each person is within the system and what influence they have is important.

3. Envision the future and build strategy.  Ask "Where are we going with this effort?" and "What's the point?"  As the change leader you need to know what new future will look like as a result of the change.  How will it be better?  What systems will it reinforce?  Will it replace some systems altogether?  How does this change fit into your long term, mid, and short term strategies?  Make sure all the goals nest together in the sense that they all align toward the same ultimate positive outcome.  If you can't form a clear vision of where the organization is headed, how can you expect others to? And then...

4. Communicate the vision! Now that you have a clear picture of why the change needs to happen, and what the future will look like as a result, communicate that vision to everyone else.  After all, you made a decision to take on the monumental task of creating change because you knew it was worth the energy and urgency.  Now it is your role to communicate why that decision is best, and help others come to the same conclusion.  Why would they put in the effort if they don't see why it's worth it?

5. Remove barriers and align the organization.  Look forward- what could derail this change effort?  Are there people or structures in place that might slow down or completely halt the positive momentum you're building?  Think a few steps ahead, using your knowledge of the existing structures, and try to clear obstacles before they occur.  What does structure mean?  It means how information flows, who is seen as influential, what the work flow looks like, who reports to whom, who has political affiliations with whom, and what other hidden agendas there might be that you need to be aware of.  Do your best to work with your understanding of the realities of the organization and try to align them to work in your favor towards the change effort.

6. Build on early successes.  This can be said in another way: create small wins that people can celebrate and rally around early in the effort.  Momentum builds as people see that yes, things can change, and yes, change can be good.  Give some thought as to what pains you can help alleviate and build those "small wins" in to the first part of the change management structure.  A few early wins (especially for key people in influential positions) can help to rally those who are on the fence and align everyone towards further small wins, and finally the change as a whole.  Not all of us are marathon runners- we can't all delay satisfaction for the last goal.  Many of us need small rewards for small efforts, which add up to bigger rewards for bigger efforts.

7. Maintain (or increase) the pace of change.  While still communicating urgency, don't set the bar too high too soon.  Just as early wins can motivate, early failures can derail.  Start off small, accomplish milestones and goals, and build an intentional pace into the structure of the change effort.  This can't be on-the-fly or figure-it-out-as-you-go.  It must be built in to the overall plan.  Remember, for each force there is an equal and opposite force, so if you start off guns blazing you're only creating more resistance to overcome.  Think of it this way- is it easier to break the surface tension of water by walking in to a lake or by entering it from above going 50 miles an hour?  In which situation are you most likely to survive?  Once you are in, however, slowly pick up the pace and maintain urgency.

8. Put systems in place to reinforce change.  This includes planning ahead (what will the structure look like) and putting elements in place as you go (building toward an overall structure).  An organization without structure is like a body without bones - you can have all the energy (muscle) and intention (brain) you want, but without something for those to hold on to, you aren't going anywhere!  See my website for more information on organizational structure.

So there you go- with some time and attention to the 8 items above, your change management effort has a lot higher chance for success.  Good luck.