There is nothing more predictable than change. It is, as they say, the one constant in the universe. However, the volumes of analysis and research on the subject of change only provide a peek at how change may impact our individual business. In other words, there is no magic wand solution for managing change that works predictably for everybody. Where would the fun in that be?
Many Moving Parts
“Most organizations today are in a constant state of flux as they respond to the fast-moving external business environment, local and global economies, and technological advancement. This means that workplace processes, systems, and strategies must continuously change and evolve for an organization to remain competitive.” This is from an article in Pulse Learning by Fionnuala Courtney in regards to the Professional Services industry. She points out that 70% of change initiatives fail primarily due to negative employee attitudes. And the harsh reality of this fact is that people will leave an organization and walk out with knowledge and experience that is difficult and sometimes impossible to replace. Yes, there are a lot of elements to manage in change, but the one moving part that causes the most stress is when people move out the door.
An alternative to losing your people is to outsource. In an article for the Harvard Business Review, Ron Ashkenas has this to say: “Given this evidence [change management failures], is it possible that everything we know about change management is wrong and that we need to go back to the drawing board? Should we abandon Kotter’s eight success factors, Blanchard’s moving cheese, and everything else we know about engagement, communication, small wins, building the business case, and all of the other elements of the change management framework?” He blames the discourse and lack of success in implementing change on the fact that much of it is outsourced and accountability is lacking. His conclusion is: “Everyone agrees that change management is important. Making it happen effectively, however, needs to be a core competence of managers and not something that they can pass off to others.”
Quest for Success
With all of the downside of mismanaging change, why do companies still pursue change with such vigor? In an article entitled What Everyone Gets Wrong About Change Management, authors N. Anand and Jean-Louis Barsoux point out that there are excellent reasons to try. “Studies and analysis that we have conducted show that most corporate transformation efforts are either derivatives or combinations of five prototypical quests:”
- Global presence: extending market reach and becoming more international in terms of leadership, innovation, talent flows, capabilities, and best practices.
- Customer focus: understanding your customers’ needs and providing enhanced insights, experiences, or outcomes (integrated solutions) rather than just products or services.
- Nimbleness: accelerating processes or simplifying how work gets done to become more strategically, operationally, and culturally agile.
- Innovation: incorporating ideas and approaches from fresh sources, both internal and external, to expand the organization’s options for exploiting new opportunities.
- Sustainability: becoming greener and more socially responsible in positioning and execution.
They also point out that one reason that they have found that transformations fail is that companies neglect leadership development, not just at the top, but also throughout the organization. Establishing proper mindsets and behavior help employees track and embrace change more easily.
Not What But How
So much of the blame for failed change strategies lies in poor implementation and often relying on “experts” instead of the management team. In professional services especially, it’s not as easy as a new manufacturing upgrade or product modification. It takes the serious winning of the minds and hearts of the people that make the company go. Here are six steps suggested by Ms. Courtney:
- Clearly define the change and align it to business goals. Is the proposed change financially, strategically and ethically in sync with company objectives? And it’s in this analysis that a clear and supported “why” must be communicated to your team.
- Determine impact and those affected. Who will this affect the most and how will the change be received?
- Develop a Communications Strategy. Key message, a timeline and how feedback will be managed should be planned.
- Provide effective training. Face to face and all other methods should be considered and not only for skills but for behaviors too.
- Implement a support structure. Counseling services and mentorship programs can help those most impacted by the changes.
- Measure the change process: Consider implementing an Operational System of Record where projects, resources and margins are visible and can be managed effectively.
Change is inevitable, and it is much easier when you can see it coming and can plan to take it on from your perspective versus having to simply react to conditions that were created out of your control. Control is, after all, the great equalizer, and companies that take control can usually keep control.