Q-Bits: Articles

Improving the Odds in Change Management - The Times They Are A-Changin'

The ability of an organization to change is crucial to creating and sustaining shareholder value. Simply put, change initiatives boil down to changing people's behaviors from a static state to a future, more desired state. A simple notion but very tricky in practice. Depending on the research, the chances of a change management initiative succeeding varies from a pessimistic 20% rate to an optimistic [sic] 60% success rate. How can executives improve their chances of success without alienating the people they are trying to change?

"Just because everything is different doesn't mean anything has changed."

The American author, Irene Peter, did not have the modern organization in mind when she penned these sage words. However, she gets to the root of the challenge. Unless your change initiatives are aligned with how individuals want to see their role and interactions with others, it will be difficult to truly change behavior. Managers need be realistic about how difficult a change process will be when people are involved, given that planning, executing and living with change is a product of the attitudes and experiences of a diverse group of people. Because these attitudes and beliefs are often hidden to the organization (and employee), significant attention needs to focused on what people's hidden and emotional drivers are and how they could understood and managed (i.e. the right brain). Too often, with data-driven or status-focused firms, very little consideration is paid to what really drives a person's behavior as opposed to concrete factors like pay or title. Executives who can anticipate, plan and align with the emotional drivers will enjoy much more success.

It's the Right Brain... Stupid

One way to improve the odds of a successful change is to avoid many of the pitfalls of common change management strategies. McKinsey Research and our experience have identified 6 examples of ‘best practices' that will improve the odds for successful change:

Call to action for all employees
Common assumption - Changes in visible measures like pay or title, in and of themselves, can motivate and change employee behavior.
Reality - Employees are often motivated by many different drivers that are in many cases ignored through the change process.

Engage, don't preach
Common assumption - Since management is in the best position from an information and strategy perspective to see the "big picture," they are best suited to craft and communicate the change story and process.
Reality - Extensive research has demonstrated that people become more engaged when they can participate in the problem or opportunity definition and then have a stake in leading change and evangelizing the solution.

Panic or dream but be pragmatic
Common assumption - Typically, a call to action will be overly positive ("we need to build something") or negative ("we need to fix something") so that a sense of urgency and clarity is established.
Reality - Employees often view one-sided clarion calls as lacking legitimacy and credibility. A more balanced approach (e.g., adding the risk element) will bring more credibility to the message and ensure greater alignment.

Lead up, down and across the organization
Common assumption - Like the political world, many organizations look to a charismatic and visionary leader as necessary to drive change.
Reality - While a Gandhi narrative is appealing, it is in fact quite rare for change to occur through the inspired actions of one person. Driving real change is a result of many passionate managers and committed employees at all levels of an enterprise leading from example, both publicly and one-on-one.

Couple good intentions with the required capabilities
Common assumption - With enough urgency and brute effort, any change management initiative is bound to succeed
Reality - In many cases, change initiatives are band-aid solutions hiding deeper business issues like poor competitiveness or insufficient resources. Ignoring these capability gaps means that the root of the problem is never addressed.

Follow through and keep going
Common assumption - A compelling story, visionary leadership and engaged employees is sufficient for quick success
Reality - Change is difficult, often problematic and time-consuming. Making it part of the job, aligning new behaviors to performance measurement and empowering the employee will increase the odds of success. A healthy dose of management follow-up is needed to ensure the change is permanent.

Changing minds to change organizations is never easy. The odds for success can be improved when management engages employees as they really are versus how they would like them to be. To do this, savvy managers will direct their change strategies against the employee's left and right sides of the brain.

Copyright 2009 Quanta Consulting Inc.

For additional strategic planning insights and a discussion of our relevant client experience, please contact us-

Mitchell Osak
Managing Director
Quanta Consulting Inc.
99 Bideford Ave
Toronto, ON
M3H 1K5
(416) 937 2106