Initiating and Effecting Change

If you’ve ever tried to change one of your habits, you know how difficult it can be. Now imagine changing an organization’s habit(s) and you quickly realize that the reason many organizations struggle with change management is because it’s hard work to instill successful change. Whether you’re changing individual habits or an entire organization’s habits, the key is to plan carefully and build a proper foundation for the change. Through planning, implementing change becomes easier and your chances of success are greatly improved. 

In my experience in working with organizations that chose to implement change initiatives on their own, I have learned that there is a right way and a wrong way to implement change. Most of the organizations that tried to implement change on their own failed. The major reason: Communication and staff engagement was minimal at best. 

To enable successful change management, here are seven steps that I find to be very effective. 

  1. Create a sense of urgency (and this isn’t about creating a frenzied work environment of endless meetings!). This is about creating more communication in the workplace to explain the change initiative and may include a web page dedicated to the project, regular e-mail blasts about the change initiative, a bulletin board to solicit feedback, perhaps a Facebook page, or other techniques through in-person or social media connections. John Kotter, one of the world’s leading experts on change management suggests that for change to be successful, 75% of a company’s management needs to buy into the change. No matter what you’re setting out to accomplish, if you want to succeed, you need management by your side. If you have 75% of company’s management on your side, you have created a catalyst for the change initiative. 
  2. Find effective and powerful change leaders in your organization. These change leaders will be found at all levels of the organization. Sometimes I find that the best change leaders are the people at the very bottom of the totem pole. They tend to see and hear much more of the ‘daily grind’ than those in the upper positions and are well positioned to recruit supporters for organization-wide change initiatives. Smart leaders recruit from the bottom of the organization chart for successful change initiatives. 
  3. The third way to implement change in your organization is to build and communicate a vision for the change initiative. Think about that. Why is the change important? What impact will it create for the organization? If you aren’t certain about the answers to those questions, it will be difficult to communicate how the change will impact the organization or how the change will be implemented. Work with the change leaders in your organization to develop the strategy and then walk the talk. Communicate your change strategy, so that staff understand the organization’s common objectives. What you do is far more important and believable than what you say. Demonstrating the kind of behavior that you want from others in your organization will impact the success of the change initiative. 
  4. At this point, a strong momentum is building for the change. Now it is time to remove obstacles to change. This means converting the organization’s resisters and continually checking for barriers to change. Empower your people to execute your vision by recognizing and rewarding those that make change happen; and help the resisters through coaching. 
  5. Create quick wins during the change process. This will serve to motivate you and your staff. If you have a huge project planned, don’t wait until the entire project is completed five years down the road to congratulate everybody for the great job they’ve done. Look at perhaps every three or six months to do casual get-togethers and reward those people that have really made a difference to the project. You may be pleasantly surprised at how little it takes to truly motivate an entire workforce. 
  6. Continue building momentum. A Harvard study showed that the failure rate for change initiatives is two out of every three. What this indicates is that it is very important to keep building momentum for the project until the change initiative is solidly grounded in ‘maintenance’ and is no longer in ‘development’ or ‘project’ mode. After every milestone is reached in the project, analyze what went right and what needs to occur to keep improving. That’s how you build and maintain momentum. 
  7. Integrate the change initiative into the organization’s culture. Once the project is implemented, it becomes part of routine and is integrated into the organization’s culture. However, keeping the change initiative “on the agenda” is an easy way to ensure that the change is no longer new. It becomes engrained into daily routine and, as a result, a successful change. 

Successful leaders breed successful organizations and create effective change. As a successful leader, what are you doing to ensure that you are implementing these steps to effect successful change management in your organization?