Change Management: Stop Failing to Change, Part 2

June 22, 2015 - 8 minute read - Posted by

If you want to make successful organizational changes it’s important to understand why so many fail. Poor change management is a prominent reason. In my previous blog I introduced the concept of Change Management and covered the first phase in the process, Unfreezing. The first phase of a successful change management plan focuses on shaking up the status quo to make room for change. Once you’ve successfully unfrozen the status quo it’s time to start the Transition.

Organizational change starts by unfreezing the status quo, but once an organization is ready the next step is the actual change itself. Transitioning from the old to the new is where many organizations drop the ball. Focus on these steps to help ensure a successful transition:

  1.    Communicate Vision and Strategy:

– Get as many people as possible to understand and be on board with your vision and strategy.

  1.    Empower Action:

– Remove any barriers that are keeping those who are enthusiastic about the change from taking action.

  1.    Celebrate Short-Term Wins:

– Quick wins give your vision and strategy credibility.

Imagine parachuting for the first time. You may have convinced yourself of how exhilarating this experience will be, but now it’s time to take a leap of faith through the clouds. Terrifying, right? It’s similar to organization change initiatives that have made it through the unfreezing stage and are now ready for implementation. You’re seeking some benefit or solution, agreed that it’s time, and have a plan to move forward, but now it’s time to move forward. The transition phase focuses on the hard part: putting change into motion.

For many organizations, change management initiatives face the most barriers in the transition phase. Poor communication and not addressing potential obstacles that could be faced are two common reasons why changes fail despite the organization being willing and ready to move forward. If you want to succeed you can’t stop at establishing urgency and creating a guiding vision. You have to follow through with a proper transition.

The Transition phase focuses on helping the change you want to see become actual behaviors within your organization.

Continuing with Kotter’s Eight Stage Change Process from my previous blog, I’ll highlight now how to properly transition, where you can put your desired change into action.

Communicate the Vision

Once you’ve established a transformational vision and strategy, it’s time to start communicating it to the whole organization. Use every channel at your disposal to continually communicate what the strategy is moving forward. Identify and acknowledge what’s being lost in the new change, while still emphasizing the benefits. People are hesitant to change because it brings the risks of the unknown, so before moving forward communicate what the next steps are and eliminate anxiety pro-actively. Good communication can help subside some of these anxieties.

Don’t just call for a few special meetings to reiterate what the plan is. You should be communicating your new vision every chance you get. The fresher it is in everyone’s minds the more likely they are to remember and respond to it. The best way you can communicate your new vision is to ‘walk the talk’. As Kotter says, “Deeds speak volumes.” Change is undermined when our own behaviors are inconsistent with our words. Change leaders need to embrace the vision with their actions as well as their words, leading by example.

Here’s a few examples of how you can communicate your vision:

  • Talk about your change vision constantly.
  • Use multiple channels such as emails, team meetings, and even posters in the lunch room.
  • Address the possible anxieties, distrust, or anger people might have.
  • Lead by example. Change leaders should be on the front-lines.

Empower Action

When you’ve reached this step in the process, your vision has been clearly communicated, building buy-in across the organization. At this point the goal is to get as many people involved as possible. Hopefully by now your staff are ready to get started on achieving the benefits you’ve been promoting. In order to empower them to take action and get the ball rolling it’s crucial to remove barriers that are still resisting change.

Barriers such as a dis-empowering manager or organizational structures, policies, and procedures can easily derail change initiatives. They bind the hands of those who wish to make the vision for change into a reality. When we are dis-empowered we get a sense of what can and can’t be achieved. Our own feelings that we are incapable of achieving change hold us back. Therefore, taking these barriers head on is crucial to empowering people to execute your vision and move forward.

Example barriers can include:

  • Identify and address barriers on a priority basis, dealing with the most detrimental first.
  • Talk directly to dis-empowering managers to discuss why they aren’t on board and explain why change is necessary.
  • Encourage risk taking and embrace that mistakes are part of the process.

Celebrate Short-term Wins

Success is an incredible motivator. Large-scale organizational change requires momentum to be successful. Generate quick wins in a short time frame to help showcase the benefits for change. Small wins will motivate your team to stay the course for bigger wins. Without them, critics and those still resisting have a greater chance of hurting your progress.

Create smaller targets, rather than just one large long-term goal. They need to be specific, achievable, and within a short time frame (depending on the change, this could be a month or a year). Short-term wins will provide feedback on the validity of the change vision and strategy. You want to increase faith in the change project as well as silence any remaining critics.

Ways to achieve small wins can include:

  • Find projects that can be implemented without help from strong critics.
  • Avoid early targets that are expensive. A costly loss early on can be devastating to the entire change initiative.
  • Visibly recognize and reward those who make the wins possible.

Moving Forward

A successful transition will put your vision and strategy into practice, setting you up to refreeze the new state of affairs as the new norm. My next blog will finish off the change management process, focusing on the third phase, Refreezing.

In the comments below I’d love to hear how transitioning has gone for you in the past. What’s worked well? What didn’t work at all?

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