Change - Red neon light - Ross-Findon-303091-unsplash

Change management has been around for a long time…so you’d think we’d finally get it right.  But, unfortunately, studies have consistently found that 70% of change initiatives ultimately fail to achieve their desired results.

That means that the tumultuous work environment and emotional/physical toll on workers resulted in the status quo rather than the idealized transformation.

The question, of course, is why?

Why does change management continue to create such severe challenges for change leaders and change targets?  Why does change management continue to be so difficult to sustain?  Why do 60 years of change management methodologies continue to achieve less than optimal results?

And how do we become part of the elite 30% that do change?

Change May Not Be Easy…But It’s Necessary 

Much to the chagrin of many of my clients, we are working in an era in which change has become the new status quo.  As Jack Welch warned, we must “change or die.”

Although this is a dire prediction, no one can argue that technology has geometrically expanded the rate of innovation in the marketplace, the workplace, and society at large.  It’s not enough to be up to date — we must also be watching trends in order to effectively zig and zag in a proactive response.  It’s not enough to know what the business across the street is doing — when our biggest competitor might be across the globe.

But the ability to change is not easy.  It takes adaptability.  It takes resiliency.  It takes tenacity.  And it takes strong leadership throughout the organization.

Instead of an individual change initiative,
we are now working in a world where constant change is the new normalcy.  

Unlike Lewin’s 3-Stage Change Model of Unfreeze/Change/Refreeze or Kotter’s 8-step model to successfully push organizational change, there no longer seems to be any period of respite between the individual mandates to change.  Workers are burned out from competing change demands and may lose their desire to change any more or at all!

With any change model, it is imperative that organizational change leaders adapt the methodology so that it resonates with the core values of its culture.  This takes an understanding of not only what can potentially work, but also what will be difficult to implement within their environmental context.

So, how can an organization create the change that it needs in order to succeed?  How can employees be motivated to put forth the tremendous effort required to change?  And how can the “new world” of the change become part of the organization’s cultural fabric?

5 Ways to Help Ensure That Your Changes Will “Stick”  

While I doubt if any methodology works perfectly in every work environment, there are certain aspects of change management and leadership that traditionally create positive outcomes — with the least stress as possible.

  1. Don’t select change leaders based on position power.  Because change strikes at the very fiber of employees’ self-identification and professional worth, a person (not the job title) should be selected to spearhead the change.  Informal network power (that is earned through relationship building) is vastly more capable of inspiring the hearts and minds of workers who are being asked to change (often significantly) the way that they work.  Include network leaders in the planning, implementation, and on-going evaluation of the change process.
  2. Don’t use 1-way communication to inform employees.  Sending out emails or reports about the progress of the change initiative does not spur an immediate two-way dialogue.  Such methods talk “at” workers, rather than talking “with” them via town halls or informal conversations.  Remember:  telling employees to change is not communicating with them about the change.  Don’t wait until the change initiative has been developed to include employees across the organizational hierarchy into the conversation about change.  Always keep an open channel of communication during implementation so that employee fears can be identified, respected, and responded to.
  3. Don’t ignore or fire the change resistors The prevailing wisdom is to throw anyone who isn’t on board off the bus.  But change resistance is a natural part of change that should be (but often isn’t) anticipated.  When employees push back on requests to change, there is usually a very good reason:  perhaps they understand the workflow better than the change leaders…or they see the contradictions that could hinder productivity…or they might just be experiencing change overload or saturation.  By taking the time to listen to their concerns, change leaders can build trust — which must be in place in order for employees to feel sufficiently secure so that they will be more willing to change.  Change resistors can be an important check-and-balance tool in determining the speed and scope of the change initiative — giving change leaders insights as to when to speed up as well as slow down.
  4. Don’t assume that management techniques will inspire workers to change.  Effective change requires leadership skills — in fact, some scholars argue that change cannot be “managed,” it can only be led.  Management tools — while important to keep consistency and ensure that deadlines are met — rarely succeed in changing employee attitudes and behaviors.  A more heart-centered approach is needed, which requires the ability to lead:  to inspire workers to take the leap of faith that change requires in order to move toward a better future.  Change leaders consider their employees’ “WIIFM” factor (what’s in it for me) and actively seek to address how their wants and needs will be impacted by the change.  Leadership skills are better suited to assuage the natural fears that employees will experience during times of organizational change.
  5. Don’t under-estimate the role of burnout.  In my research on burnout during organizational change, I became convinced that burnout is a major source of the workforce’s inability to change.  Change takes work and energy in order to “take hold” within the culture.  But if workers are emotionally and physically exhausted, they are less likely to have the stamina to modify and monitor the work behaviors that they are expected to change.  Above all, burnout represents the human side of change:  without workers, there is no change…and there is no company.

There is a trend in these five common mistakes made by change managers:  the emotional aspects of the demand to change.  Successful change leaders continuously monitor and address the concerns of their workers during a change initiative.  They have built a repository of informal network power that provides a solid foundation of trust and dialogue.  They understand that fear will increase the level of resistance and do their best to understand the basis for employees’ fears.  They lead by example so that the workforce is less fearful of changing their own attitudes and behaviors, rather than forcing them to “just change.”  And they recognize that burnout can not only destroy the prospects of successful change, but also significantly harm their workers emotionally and physically.

Maybe the moral is to stop trying to change the organization, but to start leading workers to evolve.  After all, to change is to grow.

NOTE:  Photo is courtesy of Ross Findon on Unsplash.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning company focused on techniques to eliminate the 5 workplace stressors that create and sustain burnout:  Job Change, Organizational Change, Work-Life Imbalance, Poor Leadership and Management, and Ineffective Human Resources.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, author, keynote speaker, blogger, career coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” in her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI.  For more tips and ideas, please subscribe to her weekly “Success @ Work” eNewsletter at https://drgeripuleo.lpages.co/success-work-opt-in-page.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to www.gapuleo.com

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