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.


Tips for managing office change

There is no “magic bullet” when it comes to effectively leading change. Managing change is a tough and serious challenge — even for the most experienced and highly capable leaders.

Research reflects that well-managed change initiatives frequently have common and fundamental program elements. Here are a few to increase your odds of success:

  • Model the behavior you want. The best leaders lead by example. If you are leading a change effort, know that people are watching you for cues about how they should respond to the change. Senior leaders need to set the pace and tone for others in a positive and realistic way. If you are anxious and dreading the change, you can bet your people will pick up on this and respond accordingly. Anxiety is contagious: The good news is so is energy and enthusiasm.
  • Be adaptive and open to influence. Wise change leaders demonstrate flexibility. They demonstrate a willingness to listen, learn and adapt the plan as necessary.

They understand there is no “one size fits all” and know it’s better to rework the plan than to continue to lead in the wrong direction. They communicate the expectation for feedback (including bad news) and acknowledge the importance of receiving real information (not just what the boss “wants” to hear).

  • Include those whom the change will affect. Savvy leaders of change know that the key to success is seeking the input of the “end users” of the change. They include all those affected by the change, from the time the potential change is being considered, to the design phase and through implementation.
  • Communicate early, consistently and often. Caution: The more surprised people are by the change, the greater the resistance. Keep information about the change constant and flowing from all directions. You can’t overcommunicate when it comes to change.
  • Paint a picture of the desired future. Communicate the vision clearly and concisely while appealing to hearts and minds. Selling a vision that is blurry or confusing won’t work. Keep it simple — no jargon or techno-speak.
  • Be direct and consistent. Be straightforward about the changes and consequences of an expected change. Avoid misunderstandings or sending inconsistent messages and be honest regarding anticipated sacrifices and expected workload that will accompany the change.
  • Create a system that supports real communication. Make it safe for people to tell you how they feel about the change and what is really going on. Allow people a platform to voice their concerns, questions, suggestions or ideas. The last thing a leader of change wants to foster is a “kill the messenger” approach: It’s frequently a deflection or distraction from real issues that need to be resolved.
  • Recognize and celebrate victories and progress along the way. Success begets success; the key is to identify and communicate it. Communicate progress, milestones and successes to reinforce the change and to foster teamwork and camaraderie.
  • Tune into your employee station “WIIFM” or “What’s in it for me?” Tell employees how they will benefit from the change. Acknowledge their sacrifices and provide employees with evidence that the sacrifices they are making are worth it. If it’s so the business stays open and they keep their jobs, say that is so. Be honest about the reasons for the change; your employees will appreciate it and will frequently respond in amazing ways.
  • Be undeniably aligned behind the effort. The larger the organization and scale of change, the more important the consistency of the support from all levels of “bosses” is in the organization. Having all management speaking the same talk and walking the same walk is vital to success. How all managers address expectations, rewards and consequences around the change and with their employees needs to be clear and consistent. Bottom line: What’s shown to be important to the boss is what will become important to the employee.

I can help you with the people end of managing change more effectively.  I coach via Skype anywhere in the world!  Call 360 682 5807 or email: mmoriarty@pathtochange.com