My little niece and I had a chat about the impact of change recently. She said: “You know, what makes change so hard for me is that I get used to things and attached to people so fast and intensely; that makes letting go almost impossible.” I was flabbergasted about her wise and insightful statement. “I totally understand, sweetheart. It is hard. What would help you make the leap of faith?”, I asked her curiously. “I need to know more about the new situation so that I can sense what it will be like.” “Great. And what else would be helpful for you?”, I kept inquiring. “It would be cool to have some support along the way, just in case.”
My niece is a brave girl and a tough cookie as you can tell from this conversation. What can we learn from it? Well, obviously I have an idea. Can you see a parallel to organizational change projects, too?
Becoming change-capable is now a key competitive advantage for organizations. Senior management teams typically know what they want to achieve within the next 5 to 8 years, and they describe their strategy using numbers and figures. Usually, these data-driven managers really like the matter-of-fact and clean way in which their strategies are formulated. They give them direction and a foundation to manage their functions, thus, providing focus and reducing complexity. So far, so good. How about managers and staff on the levels below who were not involved in the strategy process? To what extent will they be able to relate to the strategy formulated by the senior management team?
Research shows that the failure rate of organizational change projects has been stable at around two third over the past 50+ years. In detail: More than 60% of change initiatives fail to achieve the intended results. More than 70% of all strategic change projects face major difficulties that they are not completed. 57% of companies experience a downturn in productivity during a transitory phase. Almost 70% of change experts report that their organization is close to change over-saturation.
The biggest challenges to successfully implementing strategic change projects are not only a lack of commitment by the top team or the involvement of key stakeholders and an underestimation of the project complexity, but also changing opinions, organizational culture and identity.
For organizations to change, individuals need to change. Change communication is about renegotiating the relationship between the organization, the individual and the customer. Here is what employees need in order to change behaviors:
10% Why the organization is changing
10% Overall organizational priorities
20% How the employees will be measured and the consequences
50% Tools, and support provided
10% What‘s in it for us?
How can you embed those needs in your overall strategy? Follow these five crucial steps:
- Conduct a stakeholder analysis. Segment your audience into ‘key stakeholders’, ‘directly affected’, ‘close interest’, and ‘wider community’. Identify who is in favor of the change, and what the resistance could be about for each segment.
- Create a training and development plan. Determine which capabilities and skill-sets each segment of your audience needs to develop in order to buy-into the change. Provide adequate learning opportunities and include them in all your communication activities.
- Provide leadership support. No pressure, but you need to role-model the new behaviors, explain ‘why’ at each stage of the transformation, clearly articulate the vision and the strategy, provide direction and reassurance throughout the process, communicate regularly and in a timely way, and listen to people’s concerns.
- Craft targeted key messages. To change behaviors, employees need answers to these questions:
- Why change? How is this important to what I do? What changes are happening when?
- What do you want me to do differently? What are the priorities? How will we know if we’re on the right track?
- How will I be measured and what are the consequences?
- What tools and support do I get to help me make this change? How can I raise concerns?
- What‘s in it for me? What‘s in it for us?
- Choose the right channels and timing. Use presentations, FAQs, emails, newsletters, open forums, focus groups, workshops, working groups, champions, instructions etc. The different phases of change call for different messages:
- Deny – need to talk and be heard
- Resist – need to see the big picture and understand the benefits, need to be involved and feel in control
- Accept – need for more detailed information, need for reassurance and affirmation
- Explore – need for more active involvement, need to be able to work with others
- Commit – need for acknowledgement, need for recognition and reward.
Effective change communication creates an underlying foundation of trust needed to engage all levels of the organization in change, connects the organization to a single vision, energizes people for change, and links executive management to employees.
Inspired Executives support you in facilitating change processes in your organization, enabling process thinking, and building trust with candid information about the need for and the difficulty of changing . Contact us .
Research in this article is based upon studies and work of IBM & HBR, Towers Perrin, Accenture, the Corporate Leadership Council, and Groysberg and Slind.
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