H.R. Huddle columnist Dr. Charlotte Lacroix is the founder and CEO of Veterinary Business Advisors Inc.Read Articles Written by Charlotte Lacroix
Although plenty of businesses talk about change and many of them devote significant time to change management, too many efforts are failing. An article in HR Magazine analyzed why this is happening and offered suggestions for making your next change-management strategies take root.
The February 2018 article “Why Change Efforts Fail” cited a Prosci study that found 86 percent of 1,778 change leaders expect change initiatives to continue to increase over the next two years, with 55 percent expecting a significant rise. A spokesperson cautioned, however, that 73 percent shared how their organizations are either approaching or have reached the point where absorbing any more change is difficult.
Explain the Reasons for Change
What can be done to prevent change initiatives from failing in this age of saturation? For starters, sponsors of changes must remain visible and active throughout the entire process. They can’t abdicate responsibility if they want changes to succeed. And while communicating the nuts and bolts of proposed changes is important, it’s crucial both to discuss adjustments that will need to be made and work through the emotional components of change. This will help to reduce resistance.
Sharing the rationale behind change is critical because people have an easier time adjusting when they hear why something is happening. What’s also imperative is to model the behavior expected from the team. If, for example, you want more collaboration to take place among team members, demonstrate it first.
One-way, top-down communication typically isn’t effective in 2018. So, communicate changes to your team as early as possible in the process, carve out time for discussion, and don’t try to do too much at once. Prioritize initiatives to help prevent saturation.
A July 2017 article in Forbes magazine echoed the dangers of saturation, calling it “change battle fatigue.” Citing a McKinsey & Co. study that found 70 percent of all transformations fail, the article detailed how and why battle fatigue can set in. The reasons range from past failures — “Oh, no, not this again!” — to the sacrifices made through the arduous process. Discouragement further weighs down the process and, when transformation is poorly led, efforts are more likely to derail.
What You Can Do
When workplaces go through significant changes, employees can become fearful, especially when past attempts at transformation failed and perhaps led to layoffs or other negative consequences. When people are worried about their careers, they aren’t as open to learning or able to think as well. As a result, the Forbes article pointed out, when management needs the team to be at its best, employees are distracted, less productive and unable to focus effectively.
Suggestions for breaking this cycle include:
- Identifying early successes and celebrating them.
- Ensuring that the vision continues to be supported.
- Clearly defining milestones and timelines.
When a milestone is met, anyone responsible for the success must be acknowledged from the top. This will help to validate the transformation vision, keep the team energized and spur the momentum even further. Careful monitoring of early milestones also will highlight if and when the plan needs to be adjusted, and how.
To continue to support the vision, it’s important to determine which aspects of your workplace culture support it, which ones don’t and which ones don’t have a significant impact either way. What do you keep? Only the elements that support the vision.
As one example, the Forbes article shared how a company had a vision for collaboration. Yet a trip to its office revealed an “ocean of cubicles” and people wearing headphones. Although this setup might be effective at some workplaces, it does not support the vision of collaboration. After the office space was revamped, people stopped using Google Chat to communicate with someone two cubicle spaces away and instead began to talk in person.
Barriers to Change
This challenge is not new. In fact, Harvard Business Review identified reasons that change management fails in a well-thought-out article back in 1995. Titled “Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail,” the article listed eight reasons, the first of which focused on not establishing significant urgency. More than 50 percent of transformation failures were caused by this factor. Other errors included:
- Weak transformation leadership.
- A lack of vision.
- Under-communication of the vision by a “factor of 10.”
Some companies, the article noted, failed to remove obstacles blocking the transformed vision. Obstacles can include the way the workplace is organized, poor compensation that causes people to focus on their self-interest rather than the new vision, and, worst of all, “Bosses who refuse to change and who make demands that are inconsistent with the overall effort.”
The article also stated that regressing to the old ways is easy during the first five to 10 years when the new vision is still fragile.
Finally, Harvard Business Review noted:
- Leaders must consciously demonstrate how the new approach is improving performance. Team members shouldn’t have to make those connections on their own (or misinterpret them).
- Top management needs to continue to implement and use the new vision and approach.
The article ended with this thought: “In reality, even successful change efforts are messy and full of surprises. But just as a relatively simple vision is needed to guide people through a major change, so a vision of the change process can reduce the error rate. And fewer errors can spell the difference between success and failure.”