Most corporate executives understand and appreciate the fundamentals and values of organizational change. However, they often have personal filters and blind spots that may weaken and destabilize a change program. Successful change programs typically entail a structured and formal strategy-setting, project plan creation, and implementation that hopefully provides unbiased input and direction.
The change program’s starting point is generally obtaining the organization’s open and honest responses to a set of traditional business analysis queries that support the why, who, how, what and when, of the change program’s underlining problem or opportunity. They include:
- What do we want to achieve?
- Who will be affected?
- Why is the value?
- Who will lead the change effort?
- Who will support the change effort?
- How will we change?
- What are the risks and obstacles?
- How do we measure success?
- How do we recognize success?
It is mission-critical that appropriate board and executive leadership direction and support are available at the initiation stage and throughout the change program primarily for: modification to corporate culture and personality, business and technology strategy, organization and business and support processes.
In most change implementations, the human behavioral dimension often tends to be overlooked, particularly the creation of realistic change plans and actions to enable successful modification of current and the introduction of new employee behaviors.
“Discontent is the first necessity of progress.”
The Case for Change
A Case for Change is a reasoned and powerfully persuasive justification with the below characteristics:
- Direct and brief
The fundamental goal of the Case for Change is that it builds a strong sense of urgency and drives the stakeholders to immediate action with extreme passion.
The setting what may seem as extreme performance levels encourage employees to view problems and opportunities in wholly new ways.
What is the Change Curve?
As companies navigate through a change program, they typically face the fluctuations of the Change Curve, as shown below.
- Pre-aware: Sense need for changes.
- Aware: Establish changes focus.
- Detail: Verbalize changes and likely impacts.
- Belief: Recognize changes as definite and inevitable.
- Study: Test and finalize changes.
- Enable: Apply changes as a new state of affairs.
The Change Curve is a helpful tool to envision a change initiative in building stakeholders consensus through a predictable sequence of events and attitudes.
“Once an organization loses its spirit of pioneering and rests on its early work, its progress stops.”
Resistance to Change
Resistance to change is an emotional and behavioral response to real or envisioned threats to the status quo. While confrontation is the normal human reaction in times of change, effective change programs need to mitigate much of this resistance.
The below represent workplace situations resulting from change initiatives that potentially leads to resistance. Change managers need to quickly identify, assess, and develop plans to alleviate adverse stakeholder sensitivities, including:
- Change in workplace culture
- Misunderstanding of program plan and values
- Loss of knowledge and expertise
- Decrease social or political status
- Low tolerance for personal change
- Change to salary and benefits compensation
- Transform employee performance measurement
- Need to learn new skills
- The shift in governance influence, control, and authority
- Threat to position/job security
“When employees are faced with too many change priorities, aren’t sure how to proceed, and aren’t even sure that an initiative is good for the organization, they take a wait-and-see attitude, looking to their bosses for direction and to their co-workers for clues about which aspects matter the most.”
Slaying Scared Corporate Cows
Sacred Cows graze free in most companies, not ever questioned, never scrutinized objectively, and viewed as untouchable. Sacred Cows are easy to identify by asking the question, “why are we doing this?” If the response is “because we have always done this” or “this is the way things are,” the organization likely has a sacred cow!
During change programs, there is often conflict in the goals and concerns of the individual stakeholders and business groups. Conflict can develop owning to corporate culture and personality, current environmental and infrastructural perceptions, and conjectures about the future. Some battles will be valid while others will pit sacred cows against the corporate capabilities and resources that are unquestionably part of the future state of affairs.
The slaying of sacred cows will send a strong message concerning the gravity of the change initiative and intensify the positive support of the employee universe.
Highly motivated and passionate employees can have a positive multiplier effect on a change initiative. Their optimism and support communicated to the entire organization encourage employees to preserve during chaotic and stressful periods encountered during the change experience.
Change Programs: Guiding Principles
The supporting conditions and context of change programs are typically unique to the targeted organization. Experience supports that there is no explicit calculus, procedures, or methods to drive successful change initiatives.
The guiding principles outlined below have proven useful in helping deliver enduring change to all sized corporate entities.
- Think and act big.
- Connect the dots.
- Conventional wisdom reinforces the current paradigm.
- Everything is not a high priority.
- Understand the stakeholders.
- Leverage and exploit diversity.
- Champion strategic necessities.
- Confront tradition and Sacred Cows.
- Develop a compelling change mandate.
- Build a formidable Case for Change.
- Develop and maintain stakeholder consensus.
- Old performance measures block change.
- Communicate continuously with honesty, vigor, and passion.
“Every human has four endowments – self-awareness, conscience, independent will and creative imagination. These give us the ultimate human freedom. The power to choose, to respond, to change.”
Change Agent Sponsors
It is a known fact that organizations don’t change, people do, through acceptance of the need to modify personal employee behaviors. Required employee behavior changes need to be explicit and practical and include “Moments-of-Truth” relevant to how individual employees handle future internal and external interactions and decision-making.
Top-down change requirements, for instance, such as the business will become more ‘customer-focused’ or ’employees are empowered to make decisions more quickly’ are not acceptable as they can be interpreted in many ways, leading to potential conflicting and inefficient situations amongst employees and externally with customers and business partners.
Successful sustaining change programs requires inspirational change agent sponsors who can motivate employees and provide them with the encouragement and incentives to initially and continually associate their ensuing behaviors, decisions, and actions.
Change Agent Sponsors typically are responsible for change initiative activities that cover:
- Own and commit to projected change program outcomes.
- Reinforce the need for change continually throughout the change program.
- Provide employee mentoring to help them own the planned changes.
- Proactively anticipate and mitigate risks.
- Encourage employees to speak out when they encounter obstacles to success.
- Facilitate an open and non-threatening process that empowers employees to continually contribute new ideas to reinforce the change program’s objectives.
- Incessantly communicate change program status and solicit open feedback.
- Celebrate successes immediately upon realization!
A goal-focused business intelligence system is the best vehicle for institutionalizing targeted changes and galvanizing ongoing proactive action and support of the executive team.
Credibility is the underpinning of effective change communications plans. Trust is impossible to espouse with a case for change tainted by ambiguous and disingenuous content. Whether justified or as a tactical necessity, lack of truthfulness detracts from the change plan and impacts dealings and relationships among all stakeholders. Experience supports that this condition is unlikely when change communications are genuine, clear, simple, and straightforward.
Many executives fail, in articulating positive planned changes and values, despite the best of intents. There are negative consequences for deceptive or inconsistent communications in support of change programs. On the other hand, there are rewards for open and honest, convinving, and well-sustaining content. Effective change communications provide a clear distinction between the information that genuinely is management’s province and those presented and broadcast to support announcements and report on change programs.
The preconditions for creating a productive communication plan encompass.
- Validate change initiative intent, goals, and outcomes.
- Quantify financial and non-financial benefits for the organization and stakeholders.
- Identify and appreciate all stakeholder positions and attitudes.
- Verify facts and supporting information – Tell the Truth with no unnecessary secrets reserved for the board room.
- Align with the organizational culture and personality.
The Five Cs of successful change communication plans include:
“The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence – it is to act with yesterday’s logic”.
The Way Forward
Knowledge Compass change programs are personalized to assimilate with client organizational culture, strategy, and infrastructure. Our proven approach ensures practical and sustainable corporate change programs delivering results that are objectively and externally measurable.
Knowledge Compass provides an array of Frameworks, Analyses Tools, and Interactions from their Best Practices Consultant Toolbox that provide full transparency on the change programs’ life cycle.