Five minutes on … making change stick

Many change programmes don’t last. When the pressure is off, behaviours return to the old ways. Often there is too much focus on changing processes, to the detriment of the people involved.

Strategic programmes that fail include:

  • re-engineering
  • competitive positioning
  • taking ownership
  • strategic marketing
  • TQM
  • benchmarking

Survey of managers on change programmes

  • 67% said employee moral ‘worse’ or ‘same’
  • 60% said employee reactions neutral, sceptical or resistant
  • 57% rated employee skills as ‘worse’ or ‘same’

Process change
The old view focuses on changing the procedures, processes and systems; built on a command and control structure. Organisations are mechanistic with strict architecture. People aspects may be ignored or left to last. Work processes define the people, and treat them as replaceable and interchangeable.

people change
The new view characterises organisations as communities of people, not tasks to be done. Change processes catalyse the employee’s ability to generate and apply knowledge for the good of the company. The key to leading successful change is to fully tap the organisation’s:

  • collective wisdom
  • accumulated judgement
  • perceptions
  • experience
  • intuition
  • intelligence

leading change
Leading effective change, and managing all the change components, takes vision, commitment and communication.

Address all three components in a balanced, orderly manner. For example: Giving your commitment to a weak vision may pressure an organisation in the wrong direction; providing a strong vision but no commitment is seen by others as empty words.

1. vision
Start the train on the right track. Create a strong vision to inspire and motivate the organisation. To create your vision apply:

  • foresight
    see the future of the company as an effective competitor, market leader etc post-change

Following wildcat strikes, obsolete products, and threatened closure, Chrysler implemented their change projects by starting with strong fundamental principles:

  • vision: cooperation, modern operating agreements, collaboration
  • common values: code of behaviour, we need your experience and brains to survive
  • self managed teams: reduced management layers, new performance system to

encourage learning -result: within 3 years $5m loss now $1.5m profit, 70% decrease in defects

  • attribute sensitivity: identify the attributes and resources that need to be changed to give the company the new capability
  • ‘balanced’ perspective: weigh the energy focused on running the business with that needed for the change programmes
  • short & long term focus: create short term goals to keep the energy levels up, with long term goals as the end result. Use short term ‘wins’ to tackle even bigger improvements
  • strategic targeting mindset: select and sponsor the best strategic change programmes

2. commitment
Keep the train moving, even on the toughest hills. Commit the necessary resources to see change through. For example:

  • invest personal time and energy
    spend time setting and communicating goals, providing action plans, defining employee incentives, hearing presentations, removing obstacles
  • build a structure
    set up a pilot project, or team, with strong momentum, maybe in a separate but central location. Build a web of interdependencies, throughout the company
  • gain top level support
    commit to gain senior management support, and advertise it
  • assign the best people
    use employees where they will work best, capitalise on strengths; allow people in turn to lead others
  • allocate resources
    assign enough time and money to get change in place; lasting change can take years not months and needs to be able to withstand pressure from employees and other stakeholders in the meantime

3. communication
Inform the passengers what’s going on, and listen to replies.
People won’t change just because they have sat through a state of the art multimedia presentation showing fait accompli. Help people to understand the process intellectually.

The best communication programmes:

After nearly a decade of hit-and-miss change efforts, Siemens set up a communications policy to reinforce their latest change proposals:

  • appointed a new generation of managers: to foster cooperation and teamwork between departments
  • disclosed financials: all managers know the facts, and bottom-line accountable
  • listened to its customers: a 3 day gripe session, together with managers
  • freed up R&D people: meet market demand more quickly
  • results: pre-tax profits now rising again, even with increased global competition
  • use two way communication
    think of communication as a process, not a task. A desk-thumping CEO stating ‘we need to sell change to the employees’ usually makes change more difficult. Build information through two way channels.
  • share the thinking, not the conclusions
    involve people at the “thinking” stage.
  • communicate face to face
    one-to-one interaction is still crucial in this networked world. In flattened, networked organisations, information flows are even more difficult to control, with info flowing upward, downward, and across in all directions. But they are people, not cogs.

 Barriers to change

Plan for technical faults, snow on the tracks.
A threat to a group’s domain tends to strengthen their identification with it and increase resistance to change. As you progress through the change programme, you may encounter:

  • location barriers
    how someone feels about change depends on where they sit in the organisation, and where they may be moving! People consider themselves as members of a current group, not a future group or organisation.
  • upheaval barriers
    change is a messy, disorderly, disjointed process around which competing factions contend
  • competition barriers
    change is the outcome of competition between stakeholders, you can’t please them all
  • turf barriers
    areas of expertise, authority, tasks or access to resources may be threatened by the change
  • interpretation barriers
    individuals and powerful long-established groups have their own specialism, knowledge, beliefs; and interpret the world in their own way
  • communication barriers
    departments develop a unique, shared language creating a barrier to cross-functional communication

Permanent change
Keep all stakeholders on board and happy

Three essential steps to lasting change:
Charts and numbers appeal to reason in your staff, but change requires a leap of faith.

  • physical change
    changing the behaviour, systems and processes
  • intellectual change
    understanding the change rationale
  • emotional acceptance
    ‘buying in’ the change, believing in it

Emotional acceptance is often the most difficult step. To encourage the leap:

  • articulate and commit to common values
    this gives stability during upheavals and provides a basis of trust
  • reinforce the clear direction and strategic context
    help people to build a common future, and keep it in view ahead
  • establish social contracts
    share responsibilities, risks, rewards in a community of people
  • reward people
    build commitment with recognition, money, more responsibilities, and promotion

Apply vision, commitment and communication and you will get the locomotion through.

Change Check-list
Have you addressed the following issues with your staff?

  • why must the organisation and people change?
  • who is responsible for the tasks, and what skills are needed?
  • what changes in systems, structures and processes are needed for the future?
  • what are the consequences for the organisation if people behave in certain ways?
  • what information is needed to ensure objectives are met?

Have a look at the following that helps substantiates the above

The Change guru, John Kotter:

HR Zone:

The Harvard Business Review:

The Guardian commentary on digital media initiative:



This entry was posted in JIT: Managing change, Managing change, The leadership toolbox. Bookmark the permalink.

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