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.