The Hard Truth About Leading Lasting Change

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One of the toughest challenges leaders face is making change work, from building initial momentum to sustaining change long term. Consider these questions as you reflect on your experience: How can leaders help employees to accept change more easily? How often have changes been launched with great effort and fanfare, only to evaporate over time? How many change processes have been touted as models of success for change management? What’s your organization’s change management process? How many changes can people handle at one time? Why is successful, effective change so elusive, even when lead by bright, passionate people?

Leading effective and lasting change is not easy, simple or quick. Part of the reasons change efforts fall short is due to our desire to make things happen quickly. In addition, change implementation requires a wide array of leadership skills. Based on experience, we established several priorities for effectively driving lasting change:

1. Enable people throughout the organization to take ownership and commit to change.

  • The business strategy must be at the core of change, serving as the context for and providing a compelling reason for organizational change. By aligning changes with the business strategy, leaders are able to focus the organization on a prioritized, integrated set of changes. This enables employees throughout the organization to see how each change fits into the bigger picture and supports the organization’s success.
  • People support decisions they help to make. Early communication and involvement of those who will be affected by change is needed to generate buy-in.Discussions are most effective when they start to happen early enough so that stakeholders can provide input that shapes change decisions and plans from square one on. These early interactive communications require leaders to really listen and helps them to build an organization-wide perspective and to leverage a body of knowledge.
  • Changes should be planned and prioritized in accordance with the business strategy and goals. Plans should cover initial steps through actions required for long-term sustainability. Include resources such as time requirements in change plans, and provide for the right capabilities to be available when needed to execute the change.

2. Keep change on track through the use of standard change processes, strong project/program management and by tracking and discussing performance on relevant metrics.

  • Remember to consider the human dynamics of change. Through one-on-one and group discussions, anticipate the positive and negative impact the change will have on people and their work. Whenever possible, find ways to off-set negative impact on people.
  • Discuss change decisions and plans thoroughly, soliciting input from stakeholders about obstacles, solutions, gaps, hidden impacts and more.
  • Monitor progress often enough so that adjustments, tweaks and improvements can be made during implementation. Sometimes alternatives will need to be identified quickly to improve the effectiveness of change.
  • Provide timely feedback to groups and to individuals one-on-one, on what’s going well and to build and sustain accountability.
  • Continuously evaluate and ensure that the organization is providing adequate resources and capabilities to execute change.

3. Celebrate milestones achieved, and recognize individuals and teams for progress, efforts and results; and build enthusiasm and clarity on the next milestone.

  • Sharing information on the results of change initiatives completed reinforces the value of change.
  • Recognizing individuals and teams continues to bring people closer and strengthen relationships between throughout the organization.
  • This is a re-energizing, positive activity that works well when conducted ritualistically, one that engages people so they look forward to attending.

4. Continue to measure and communicate about the impact, the effectiveness and the benefits and return on investment of change, for at least 2-3 years following the implementation of a change.

  • This builds management’s credibility, reinforcing the purpose and benefits realized from change initiatives that make a positive difference in organization results.
  • Sharing from the experience of making changes helps people to learn from the ups and downs of the process.
  • Look for and evaluate unintended consequences that result from the change. For example, does the change improve on-time-shipment but encourage people to cut corners in quality?
  • Continued measurement and communication supports change efforts, enabling people to lock in change over the long term.
  • Highlighting both financial and non-financial benefits of change as well as information showing the positive impact of change on achievement of the business strategy reinforces the work done.
  • People throughout the organization will retain and find meaning in leadership’s communication when it is interesting, authentically enthusiastic, clear and understandable at a personal level for each and every employee.

5. Remember to plan for resources as needed to support the change until it is tightly woven into the fabric of the organization.

  • Haven’t we all experienced, at some point, the state of overwhelm caused when an organization tries to make changes too rapidly, leaving one change process incomplete to move on to the next? Planning for both the short and long term helps leaders to prevent organization overwhelm.
  • Planning of resources surfaces information about what everyone is working on, to consider the “regular” work people are doing as well as to measure the status of the installation of a current change initiative. This data enables leaders to assess progress and to understand the readiness of the organization to take on the next change.

These five actions are intended to help leaders to balance organization priorities and to effectively plan changes and timelines that are doable, enabling their people to lock in each change. Will these 5 guidelines help your organization to master change? Please share your opinions. What are your most notable experiences with organizational change? Please share your tips, successes and learnings.

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Updated, Copyright 5/30/2021 by Rosanna M Nadeau; Copyright 8/13/2014 by Rosanna Nadeau, Prism Perspectives Group, LLC

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