Truisms Of Change: Make Your Change Effort More Successful
“Join us on September 25 & 26 as we reflect on change leadership – the concepts behind the complications involved with change and what we can do to move our change efforts forward, with less friction and with greater results.”
Experientially, leaders know that changing an organization is messy and difficult. Every company faces unique circumstances, with a set of factors applicable to their organization. The management of change may look vastly different for a young technology company compared to a multi-generational family business. Yet, the underpinnings of change remain constant across all disciplines. Leaders who understand and embrace three fundamental truths of change will lead effective, consequential and sustained efforts rather than simply managing the consequences of change.
Truism #1: Change is Always More Personal Than Expected
Leaders often underestimate the impact change has on their people. They lecture or sell change, focus only on the benefits and dismiss or completely bypass the losses. When employees appear too negative, they dispel those concerns quickly often labeling them as detractors of progress. In fact, employees often report to us they feel completely unable to express concerns for fear of reprisal. Negativity, though, is a natural consequence of change. Consider the following scenario:
A client recently called frustrated with efforts to reshape a manufacturing division and the roles each employee played. She discovered through strategic planning that they needed more cross-functional employees at their facilities. The company had dedicated employees who knew their roles and were very good at executing them. In a large meeting, the leader presented the new plan to her employees – they were going to cross-train everyone. She explained the benefits, talked about the risks for not adapting and everyone seemed onboard. Months later, people refused to train other employees and some employees simply ignored the directive. She was frustrated that her employees could not see how the changes would make everyone better.
In interviews with employees, she discovered that many were worried that teaching others their trade would make them obsolete. Others were concerned about whether they would be evaluated on their performance in an area where they were unfamiliar. Some refused to take on new responsibilities without an adjustment in pay. Many others were excited but became disenfranchised with the lack of progress on cross-training. In the end, the personal nature of how the changes affected each employee surprised our client.
The most effective change leaders understand the personal nature of change. They provide employees the opportunity to express how the change affects them, allow time to process losses and eventually gains, and help employees transition to a point of acceptance and excitement. Leaders adept at change understand that success results from an attentive slog through the messiness of change.
Truism #2: Change Takes More Time Than Expected
Organizational “capture” provides a strong inertia that pushes against change. Organizations, no matter the size, have methodology on how they operate and do business. For good reasons – people create successes, personalities dictate strategies, employees hone their craft and eventually become proficient in their roles. The more a business succeeds, the more difficult change becomes and often the more resistant to change.
One of our clients “recently” moved to an electronic inventory management system at a single facility. Despite the clear business benefits of the new system, the company was surprised at how long it took employees to adopt the technology. Two years later, some employees at the facility still refused to put down the pen and paper – it’s the way they had always done it. Our client was frustrated that the change at one facility was taking so long and concerned that changes in remaining locations would take a decade or more. Certainly, proactive steps would help move the change forward faster, but the leaders of the organization miscalculated the impact of the change and the time needed to execute the plan – they almost gave up.
Leaders often underestimate or ignore the realities of the time required for true change. It’s understandable – the world around organizations moves rapidly, yet organizational change still deals with the analog – people.
Effective change leaders crucially understand that change requires patience, resolve and the acceptance that some of your people may not move as fast as you want. Paired with a strong plan to move the organization in a new direction, the most successful leaders embrace the chaos, work carefully to understand individuals’ emotions, and don’t succumb to the pushback once the time required to implement the plan stalls.
Truism #3: Everything Changes, Always
Your organization exists at the pleasure of the environment it lives in. Adaptability, flexibility, innovation, diversity of ideas, transformation – regardless of the terminology, business must observe, analyze and adapt to the changing environment.
The organizations who lead the most successful change initiatives build team members who embrace change even in times of stability. A client recently came to us asking for help in creating an environment where willingness to change would be a constant in his company. His industry, like many others, was going through a fundamental transformation and they needed to act decisively. For a long time, they were an industry leader, recording high profits and outcompeting other organizations. Despite their success, everyone in the company was feeling the need to change with their new environment but didn’t know what to do. Initially, he tried hiring an “outsider” for the leadership team to bring in new ideas and direction. The new leader didn’t fit well with the existing team, pushing for changes too quickly and too abruptly. Next, the client attempted a drastic shift in leading, telling his people they needed to move with him or get left behind. Employees began to leave the company, infighting hobbled departments, and the direction of the company felt uncertain. Despite everyone’s understanding that change was needed, the leader and his company could not embrace the mechanics of change.
The most change-ready organizations cultivate a mentality of change with their employees long before reactionary change is necessitated. In fact, those organizations encourage employees to seek change, to understand the external environment and as it impacts their role and the company, provide them a voice to report out the need for change. The most effective change leaders work with their people, making them feel part of the change process.