In a 2015 study, Gallup’s David Leonard and Claude Coltea asserted that 70 percent of all change initiatives fail. Anyone who has overseen a transformation knows that leading change is not easy. It’s complicated and commitment is required at multiple levels. Just as all organizations are different, no two change initiatives are the same. A change leader must consider the nuances and uniqueness of the organization – taking into account the needs of the business, the interdependencies between departments, and the impact to employees. While it isn’t easy, the following seven guiding principles will greatly increase your chances of successfully implementing your initiative.
1. Build a stable foundation for managing the change initiative and articulate your vision.
A strong foundation starts with a vision for the change that is aligned to the business strategy. Simply put, solid planning, competent leadership, and systemic thinking. Identify a change management team that the initiative deserves and who share in the vision. In addition to a sponsor (usually a senior leader), identify a change agent who is responsible for leading a broader change management team. This person must demonstrate strong influence skills and have broad organizational perspective. This team will be responsible for creating the road-map for the transformation.
2. Give the change agent and the change management team free reign to execute their plan.
In order to drive the change forward, the team must be given the opportunity and authority to plan, execute, and make decisions. This is not to say there cannot be oversight, but if the team believes that their ideas and recommendations will be corralled, they will instinctually confine their recommendations to only what they think will be accepted.
3. Focus on the problems, not the symptoms.
Ground yourself using the question “what problem am I trying to solve”? Using this as your beacon will help assess the situation from an unbiased lens. Using problem solving methods like the Five Whys, conducting a SWOT analysis to understand the internal and external factors, and other popular methods will ensure you are addressing the right issues.
4. Use a balanced and inclusive approach to gathering information. Look beyond the numbers.
Often, the first indication that a problem exists is the qualitative data – such as handle times in a call center or conversion rates in a marketing group. Equally important however, is qualitative data from the frontlines. Involve frontline leadership and key team members to get a perspective from the trenches. Not only will you gain the “color commentary” around the numbers, you’ll reduce resistance by giving them a sense of inclusion.
5. Use the power of the people.
While leadership can limit resistance by creating excitement and anticipation for the changes, humans are wired to be suspicious of unfamiliar things. Successful change initiatives set the stage by articulating the business need; building momentum by engaging and soliciting input; giving employees needed tools and resources; and anchoring the changes by recognizing accomplishments and celebrating successes. Making the transition as easy as possible for the individuals who are tasked with execution, creates the least disruption to the operation and ensures long-term sustainability.
6. Communicate, communicate, and communicate.
Use storytelling and personalization to explain how the changes will improve things. Talking about a customer who had to spend hours on the phone trying to resolve a problem with their sick child’s prescription, or how “Mary in finance” won’t need to work 12 hour days at the end of the quarter to close out the books is much more powerful than “this change will make us more efficient and responsive to customer needs.” It is also most effective to use multiple mediums and venues to allow for employees to address concerns and ask questions. Senior leadership and/or HR should be represented in these venues and could include town halls and dedicated staff meetings.
7. Identify the metrics that will guide you to your end game.
Having clear and measurable goals that help define the path to a successful transformation is vitally important when executing a broader strategy and ensuring sustainability. Identify clear key performance indicators (KPIs) that provide everyone with consistent and measurable goals. The KPIs should be tied to the strategy and the reasons behind the transformation.