Leading Change

A common truth in today’s workplace is, “The only constant is change.” Change comes in many forms — from reorgs to new software and information systems, work flow processes and programs, etc. Many of these initiatives are presented as a method to “make our lives easier” or “make us more efficient.” The jury is still out for many workers on this.

Expectations around all of this change are dramatically different from even a few decades ago. When business owners in 1970 were asked in surveys how they viewed their future, 60 percent anticipated “no change.” Today, a mere 1 percent of businesses surveyed say they anticipate no change in their future.

The concept of “Kaizen” (a Japanese workplace quality strategy designed to constantly improve and eliminate waste) was introduced in the post-World War II era, and businesses today are still riding high on the continuous improvement wave.

What is so striking in today’s workplaces is the sheer volume of those continuous improvement changes and the rate of change to the changes.

While most senior leaders are constantly focused on making continuous improvement changes, far too few of them stop and consider the true systemic impact of these initiatives, why they succeed or fail, and what they can do to improve the success rate.

I counsel leaders to choose their change chits wisely (change fatigue is real), and to recognize that to sponsor change requires dedication, commitment and specific change-management skills and methods. Most managers today are tasked with leading change, but few have the necessary time, attention, commitment, tools or skills to do it effectively.

The truth is corporate America has a poor track record implementing change. According to the McKinsey Quarterly, approximately 70 percent of major change initiatives fail in today’s workplaces.

Another study (Booz Allen Hamilton) reflects similar statistics — with only 25 percent of all change projects being successful while 63 percent are canceled and 12 percent are identified as failing outright. Clearly, leading change isn’t easy.

The majority of my executive coaching clients reflect that managing change is their most pressing challenge.

Here are just a few of the hurdles they face:

  • It’s human nature to resist change. Change can be highly stressful. Most leaders underestimate a) the impact of this stress, b) the intensity of the resistance to change and c) the problems this resistance creates. While it’s true that some are energized (even exhilarated) by change, these individuals are the exception versus the rule. The truth is that most people dislike change — and often react with fear, anxiety, resistance or denial.
  • Nobody addressed “What’s in it for me.” Major change won’t happen without people on board. Too often employees have not been provided with sufficient information and understanding of the intention or expected benefits of the change. Complacency results when a) there is no buy-in by the expected participants, b) consequences for success and/or failure are not understood and c) the stakes aren’t high enough.
  • The “No one asked me” syndrome. Employees are more resistant to change they feel is “done to them” rather than formulated and designed with their input. The biggest mistakes leaders make are not involving the end user and undercommunicating the change. You can bet on this formula: The more surprised people are by change, the greater the resistance.
  • The “Here we go again” reaction. We have all become tired of the typical scenario of “management” making another “flavor of the month” change that in the end won’t stick. Employees learn (because of previous failed attempts at change in their workplaces) that if they wait it out, the change project will often run its course before anyone really holds them accountable to it.
  • Failure to understand change roles. Successful change happens when senior leaders understand how to effectively sponsor change, and those tasked with making the change happen learn how to be an effective agent of change.
  • Failure to look at the big picture. Few organizations take the time to map out their change efforts and realize how the change will affect the whole system.

A push on one side of the system will always cause a bulge somewhere else in the system — the challenge is to identify where and what impact it will have on the organization — short term, long term and systemically.

The good news is I can help! I have solid tools, change management models and insight that can help you beat the odds.  Call me at 360 682 5807 or email:  mmoriarty@pathtochange.com

I coach professionals via Skype all over the world.

 

Leaders can make change easier

Currently, there is an unprecedented need for companies to adapt and change. From the big automotive companies to Wall Street to small Main Street businesses, this is no such thing anymore as “business as usual.”

To succeed, companies big or small will need leaders who can support and manage the necessary change successfully. Resilient teams get through tough times because they have leaders who are effective in getting their teams off the dime with focus, creativity, commitment and alignment (everyone rowing in the same direction), and actively engaged in problem solving and “making it happen.”

Harvard change management guru John Kotter has just released a timely book, “A Sense of Urgency.” He equates leading successful change with the ability to establish a sense of urgency with employees. As a coach I know by experience that behavior change doesn’t happen easily. Most humans resist change unless they have a compelling reason to change, or put another way, until the pain of not changing exceeds the pain of changing. Leaders who establish urgency around workplace changes provide an incentive for people to act now versus acting when it’s convenient or “when I can get to it.” In this economy, embracing and acting on this urgency may well define the difference between success and failure.

Here are some coaching tips to help bosses manage change:

Let your team know what’s at stake. Being candid and straightforward about current challenges will help you to maintain loyalty, trust and commitment — people both deserve and appreciate honesty. Be forthcoming about where things stand and what will happen if the change doesn’t happen. Communicate the vision, focus and plan for how the business will move forward. Let employees know a) they are an important part of that plan, b) what their part is, and c) that success depends on everyone doing their part.

As the boss, behave like you mean it. In other words, walk your urgency talk and be the model for what you are asking others to do. Your people will be watching you closely to see if your actions are aligned with your words. How you spend your day-to-day activities must be congruent with what you have asked of your team. If you are asking your team to work extra hours, expect skepticism and resistance if you aren’t in there with them.

Bring your team together for a problem-solving session. People are naturally more supportive of change they were involved in developing. Harness their collective wisdom, skills and experience. Re-emphasize the fundamentals or core values of what your team (or company) does best. When identifying who will be doing what, capitalize on and leverage the strengths of your team members. Identify and prioritize projects that will generate the most value and benefit to the company. Have the team also identify any broken, costly or inept procedures and processes so these can be eliminated.

Rally your key influencers (those who can bring people together to get it done) and don’t put up with those who put up roadblocks to the necessary change. Successful change requires all hands on deck to win; deal with naysayers directly.

Engage their hearts and minds. Sadly, according to a Gallup poll, a mere 29 percent of the U.S. workforce is engaged (i.e., loyal, enthusiastic and productive), while 55 percent are passively disengaged. Don’t rely on the numbers or the business case to move people. Humans have emotional needs. While people need to see and understand the need for change to be inspired and moved, they also need to feel the need for the change. As the leader, how you show up emotionally matters.

Help your team see how to make lemonade from all those lemons! It’s easy to get sucked into the negativity, doom and gloom. Help your team reframe the current scenario by identifying strengths to capitalize on and market opportunities that can be taken advantage of (vs. business as usual or continuing to ignore market opportunities due to bureaucracy). Encourage out-of-the-box thinking. Putting everyone’s head in the game often can lead to creative and winning solutions.

Recognize achievement and short-term wins to build momentum. Find a way to measure and acknowledge even the small successes. Don’t overlook the importance of verbal recognition. Tell your people that you recognize how hard they are working and that you appreciate what they do.

Get help with change.  I can help you with the “people” side of change and coach individuals anywhere in the world via Skype.  Call: 360 682 5807 or email: mmoriarty@pathtochange.com