"The rate of change is not going to slow down anytime soon. If anything, competition in most industries will probably speed up even more in the next few decades." — John P. Kotter, Leading Change
Because change is inevitable most executives recognize that being able to lead a successful change transformation is necessary. But time is the key. Most change efforts take time – more time than most leaders or organizations want to spend. The question that HR professionals should be attempting to address as they strive to partner with the business is—how can we effect sustainable change faster than we ever have before?
Change Transformation Catalysts
Although most organizations undertake at least one transformation within a five-year period, less than half of them succeed in fully completing them, realizing the desired results or maintaining the changes long-term. These futile change efforts leave behind other casualties such as disengaged employees and weaker bottom lines.
Too many transformation efforts are started for reasons that may not be clear or compelling. Obviously, initiating change just for the sake of it is a mistake. For it to be a worthwhile venture, there must be a strong and compelling strategic business reason to change.
Valid reasons can be internal, external or a combination, including the following:
- Repurposing outdated solutions or products for changing customer expectations
- Dealing with budget cuts or cost/productivity pressures
- Addressing regulatory or industry changes
- Reacting to strategic moves by competitors
- Increasing sales revenue and volumes
- Handling customer service demands
- Entering untapped markets
Naturally, all of these are good reasons to embark on change transformation. But before proceeding, recognize that a transformation carries risks. It has ramifications throughout the organization (not just the original change area) that must be considered. A well-thought out change plan will consider not only the change desired but the ripple effects it will cause.
For true change to occur, leadership needs to honestly ask the tough questions and search for the best solutions. An unwillingness to dig deep will render your change transformation ineffective.
Circumventing Roadblocks to Transformation
If you can anticipate roadblocks to transformation, you’ll be better positioned to handle them effectively. The following are typical in the transformation process:
- Disregarding the importance of effectively communicating change guidelines and expectations. Employees expect clear, comprehensive communication as well as transparency from their leaders. Making unilateral decisions behind closed doors fosters a culture of suspicion and fear. Leaders need to be upfront about the process—clearly articulating how it will unfold, what’s required and how employees will be held accountable for their participation. Frequently, leaders believe they’re crystal clear in communicating their intent. Employees might think otherwise. It’s at this juncture that many leaders scratch their heads and say, “We’ve implemented and conveyed the change but it hasn’t taken hold.” Leaders and HR professionals alike must consider how they are going to close the gap between the promise of change and the actual change in behaviors and performance.
- Entering the process half-heartedly. It’s natural to kick-off change and return your focus back to the day-to-day running of the business. But change transformation requires laser-like attention and hands-on involvement—from beginning to end. What’s more, if you’re not completely invested in the process, how can you expect the rest of your team or the rest of the organization to be? Lack that commitment and you’ll also leave yourself vulnerable to those who reject the change and might want to thwart your efforts.
- Failing to provide individuals with the proper resources to facilitate change. We’ve seen this scenario play out time and time again. An organization undergoes transformation but neglects to ensure that the team has the resources to reinforce and support that change. This might include people and money, but it can also be the time and space required to work on project teams, communicate changes, and speak to employees one-on-one. It can also include access to systems, facilities, and other resources needed to effectively make change happen. Make provisions before commencing the change—whether it’s more funding, staffing or training. The absence or shortage of these resources will signal a great deal to people about your commitment and the organization’s interest in change transformation.
- Bypassing the alignment process. Change alters all parts of the whole. We liken it to a Rubik’s Cube. You focus on changing one side of the tiles to align them in one solid color. Then you turn to the other sides only to find the colors jumbled. An organization is the same way. It’s crucial to address how your changes will affect other areas of the organization. Executives and HR professionals need to keep in mind the impacts of change on all aspects of the organization. This means involving the right people, but also having a process to identify and address misalignments that may occur as one part of the organization is changed in relation to the other parts.
- Neglecting to rebalance resources. Change can be like a scale. Putting all your weight on one end will leave the other side short and up in the air. Transformational change often leads to the movement of work from one area to another or from one process to another. While this may be good in the end, resources often are stuck in their current organizational alignment. Question how the change transformation will impact your resources. Make adjustments accordingly, so that no one area ends up with too much or not enough to function properly. Resources should follow the work.
- Believing other stakeholders will buy into your change transformation. Just because you believe it’s a good idea doesn’t mean your stakeholders will too. Look at the big picture and consider if your change will help or hurt them. Although it may appear to be in your best interests, your time, effort and resources could be wasted if your stakeholders feel differently—possibly impacting your bottom line and reputation. Marketing the change to stakeholders (internal and external) is part of the process.
You’re Not Done Yet
All of your hard work will be for naught if you don’t follow through long after implementation. Post-implementation follow up is the only way you’ll know if your efforts have yielded profound change. Revisit what’s working and what’s not six months to a year after the transformation process. Then address those issues.
Change is daunting. But it’s doable with the right knowledge, tools and team. Do so and you’ll be well positioned to adapt quickly and compete effectively.