Change Management: Stop Failing to Change, Part 1

June 4, 2015 - 10 minute read - Posted by

In today’s rapidly changing world, your organization is in a constant state of change. Change is natural and necessary. JFK once said, “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” Making change is how we improve and move forward in life.

Organizations continuously make changes in order to stay competitive in the marketplace. Some forces for change are external, such as new laws or technology, while others are internal, for example, new management or fast growth. Even though the need for change is clear, many organizations still struggle to make successful changes. The ones that try often fail, costing them both time and resources.

Did you know that for the past 40 years most studies show a 60-70% failure rate for organizational change projects? How can your organization avoid being part of this statistic? Change management is the answer.

Change management involves three broad steps:

  1.    Unfreezing
  2.    Transition
  3.    Refreezing

Each step is fairly extensive, for this blog I will focus on the first.

Unfreezing is a crucial first step that gets the forces for change off the ground. At the outset, every change project requires people to change their mindset and habitual behaviors. I’m sure we’ve all heard at least once in our lives, “but this is how I’ve always done it.” This is a natural response for many people because change carries the risk of the unknown. It’s not an easy task to get people to rethink how they’ve done things in the past and start trying something new and unfamiliar.

Using the first three steps in Kotter’s Eight Stage Change Process, I will layout how to successfully unfreeze the status quo.

Establish a sense of urgency

The first step for any change to occur is to create a sense of urgency. People need to have some form of dissatisfaction or frustration with the status quo. By establishing a sense of urgency you will be answering the question, “Why should we change?” Giving people the ‘why’ is how to get initial buy-in and support for the change at hand.

For example, imagine you’re the new HR Manager in a fast growing start up. You want to improve your performance management process by having something more than just traditional annual reviews. In order to get people on board you need to show them why annual reviews aren’t cutting it. Two good examples of how to establish a sense of urgency include:

  1. Statistics showing increased employee turnover following performance appraisals
  2. Employee surveys showing high levels of dissatisfaction with current performance review processes.

Both of these examples provide reasoning behind why the current process needs to change. They are both also reasons originating directly from those impacted by the change.

Create A Team Of Change Champions

Once a sense of urgency has been established the next step is to put together a group with enough power to lead the change. Without change leaders nothing will take place. A team that can lead this effort will include decision makers as well as stakeholders in the organization who will be affected most by the change. You want to ensure that the team has enough power to drive forces for change as well as be able to address the forces against. Including the people most affected by the change will help you understand and address the forces that oppose change.

Let’s go back to my earlier example. As an HR Manager who wants to abolish annual reviews to implement something better, who should be included in your guiding coalition?

Start at the top. CEOs and other executives hold most of the decision-making authority for organization-wide processes. They also control the organization’s resources. You need to have them buy in to your change initiative or it will fall flat before you can get started. If you report to any senior HR staff be sure to include them, as they fit as both a decision maker and someone who is affected significantly by this particular change. Last but not least, include a few managers who conduct your current reviews as well as some employees receiving them. Getting input from the people most affected by this change will help you see why they may oppose it and will give you a chance to address their concerns.

Develop A Transformational Vision

Once you’ve assembled your team, you need to create a vision that will help steer the change effort. What is the vision for the future? What change is needed to support your new vision? What needs to be done in order to realize this vision? Answering these questions will help your organization make the future they want more probable. Ideals for change are great, but unless there is an avenue for making them into reality no change will occur. There needs to be a destination as well as a roadmap for reaching it.

Undirected change is similar to sitting down at the casino and rolling the dice for a big win. The odds of success are slim. You can end up bouncing from table to table and never get lucky. Real world examples that display how the change you’re after has been implemented and is working in practice are extremely beneficial. Examples help provide the roadmap needed to be successful. Providing a working model that can be replicated builds trust that the change is achievable.

You don’t want a vision that’s based on a collage of untested best practices. No one will trust your new model on faith alone. Using real world examples of how other organizations have implemented similar changes will help guide your own changes. As an HR manager looking to change your performance management system you might look to how Donna Morris, Senior VP Global People and Places at Adobe, implemented a similar change. Adobe’s transition from annual reviews to ongoing check-ins is a great example of successfully changing a performance management system that can help shape your own vision. They not only provide you with a more concrete idea of how to change but also promote trust that the change can be successful.

The Takeaway

Change is necessary to continue improving and move forward. However, putting your desire to change into action can be very challenging, as most organizational change efforts tend to fail. Following change management practices will help increase the chances of being successful.

To unfreeze the status quo follow these steps:

1. Sense of urgency:

You need to establish why the change is necessary. A sense of urgency will greatly improve your chances for getting the initial buy-in.

2. Team to lead change effort:

Once you’ve displayed why, you’ll need to put together a team that can guide/lead the change efforts. Without champions of change your efforts will fall on deaf ears.

3. Transformational vision:

The last step to unfreezing the status quo is to decide on a vision to direct your change efforts. Having a roadmap to success is crucial for establishing a sense of trust that the change is possible. Your vision should include everyone as stakeholders, because although change management may come from the top it requires everyone to be considered if you want to be successful.

Unfreezing is an essential step to setting up a successful change transition. In my next blog I will continue on the change management process to discuss the next step: Transition.

How has your experience been with implementing organizational change? Let me know in the comments below.

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