You have heard it all before. What’s that statistic you heard about organisational change? 50… 60…70% of change initiatives fail and the more complex the project the more likely they are to miss the mark. It hardly inspires confidence in those of us with explicit mandates to run successful change programmes.
Clients often come to us voicing the same frustrations. They are exhausted by change initiatives that are still running months (sometimes years) after the delivery date originally planned. Even then, the projects that are landing are not reaping the benefits intended. We often find our clients in a dismal state of change fatigue, and we know how hard that is to manage.
Yet despite this fatigue, you know it is imperative that you successfully deliver your change programmes. If your company is going to navigate the unpredictable terrain of today’s market and hold a competitive advantage, then change management needs to be your bread and butter. Ultimately, you know that if you can get the change management part right, your projects are far more likely to succeed.
But you’re not sure exactly why things aren’t clicking into place, and you don’t know how to get it back on track.
What’s holding you back from leading effective change?
Studies and surveys(1) tell us that the most prevalent causes of organisational change failure are:
- Poor change leadership: Senior management is not providing adequate support to their people or commitment to the initiatives
- Slack project management: Absence or lack of milestones and objectives to monitor and measure progress against
That first point can be uncomfortable to accept. “It’s not them, it’s you” is hard to hear. Despite how that can initially make you feel, this finding is so valuable to all change leaders. It gives you an area to focus on that’s completely within your control: Yourself.
How can you change and in doing so, better lead change for others?
Five roles a change manager needs to fulfil
Understanding what the people within the organisation need from you to fulfil their part in the bigger change picture is the place to start. Effective change leaders don’t just “manage” projects. Instead, they should adopt five roles that the people within an organisation can rely on to achieve change(2).
People need to understand what the organisational change is and be able to clearly articulate the plan for delivering it. As change managers, it’s important to share a story that captures people’s curiosity and takes them on a journey that demonstrates why the change is important. We then must maintain consistent communications throughout the change delivery process. We should aim to invite further conversation and create avenues for messages to come back to you, let your people become the eyes and ears across the company. Change communications should be a two-way street. .
Would the civil rights movement have had the same impact if Martin Luther King Jr. and other social activists had only been spokespeople of the cause for the first few weeks and then moved onto other agendas? I’ll bet you can have a good guess at the answer. Yet we do it all the time. It’s easy to focus on the bright new project, but when it starts to become common news and the project is a few months in, excitement and attention drifts onto other things. If you want those you are leading to persist, you must remain an advocate of the cause.
At different points of the transformation, people will need to be taught new skills and processes to adapt to the change. Be patient and attentive to their individual needs. Where are their weaknesses and how can you help them improve? When they come together, are they communicating effectively with each other and using each other’s strengths? Like a sports coach, a great change manager can step back and observe them working together as a team. Be particularly on the look out for interpersonal conflicts and help your teams to resolve these before they derail the project.
- Resistance manager
You’ll be very familiar with this one. People are instinctively resistant to change. There’s no way around this, so work with it. As change managers, it’s important to give attention to our people’s concerns and help to settle them. Either by re-framing their concerns or showing them how the benefits of the change will ultimately outweigh their concerns.
- Liaison officer
It is the role of a change manager to facilitate the close working relationships of those in senior leadership and front-line employees. This will involve passing information back and forth between them, translating messages to make sense to each party and positioning messages carefully to help reach the destination of change.
There’s no question, being a leader of change is no small feat. Being all these roles at once is demanding and at times frustrating. There are a lot of strategies and frameworks to learn and you will need to be armed with the right toolkit and practice. When, however, you get it right and do change management properly, you will know why you do it.
For more information about change management, please contact Esther McMorris firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Mosadeghrad, A. & Ansarian, M. (2014). Why do organisational change programmes fail?.International Journal of Strategic Change Management.
- Prosci, (2012). Best Practices in Change Management Report.