9 Part Blog: The Reasons Transformational Change Can Fail – Reason 4.
A host of change management models and tools have been developed over the last several decades to assist with change management. Despite this, failure rates have remained unchanged. The obvious question is why? Part of the answer can be explained through the lens of the human element.
As individuals, change does not come easy for any of us. Every one of us are creatures of deep habits. We respond to change through a complex host of factors including our psychological traits; childhood and adolescent development; socialization experiences; our self perception; and our overall life circumstances. These factors impact our instinctual needs for survival, social positioning and how we respond to change. These are powerful forces that guide our actions and play out daily in the workplace and our personal lives.
How Employees Often React to Change
When major change is introduced to an organization or a department, employees from the executive level to front line staff, respond in a manner based on how they perceive it impacting their role, job performance and employment security within the company. People don’t openly talk about this, but it is ever present on their minds. Some of the more common examples of challenges and issues that are contemplated across the spectrum of employees, when they are impacted by change include:
- Fear of personal failure in modified/new role.
- Fear of overload due to current workload and responsibilities.
- Belief that initiative is ill conceived and can’t be done.
- Fear of becoming irrelevant.
- Perceived loss of power/prestige.
- Distrust of leadership’s intention.
So how an organization approaches and engages the human element is critical to its success. When these issues are ignored and not addressed, it significantly increases the odds of failure. Some of the common mistakes companies make which ignore the human element, exacerbate employee fears and hesitations include:
- Not having employees significantly engaged in the planning, development, and implementation of the initiative.
- Making a major high level organizational announcement, but with little detail.
- Not explaining the rationale or need for the change initiative.
- Assuming that all employees will embrace the change.
- Infrequent communication about the initiative.
- Not providing venues for employees to ask questions, which increases anxiety and uncertainty regarding what will be expected from them.
- Not perceiving resistance or issues.
- Believing that technical training is all that is required to address employee issues.
- Over reliance on process and tools.
How Successful Organizations Approach The Human Element
Organizations that are successful at implementing transformational change, take a proactive approach from the very beginning of the initiatives to ensure the human element is addressed. This does not involve compromising on the requirements of the initiative. Rather, it entails the organization focusing on 4 activities:
- Active involvement of Executives and Managers in the initiative:
- Direct participation in the planning, design, and implementation phases.
- Active ownership and role in ongoing promotion of the initiative.
- Ongoing interactions with employees throughout the process, where discussions occur regarding concerns and hesitations.
- Employee engagement and involvement:
- As an initiative takes form, various employees assist in activities associated with the planning, design, development, and implementation of the initiative.
- Consistent and ongoing communication about the initiative:
- Development of key messaging derived from the strategic plan which includes business needs; opportunities; objectives; and positive outcomes for customers and workforce in terms of growth and stability
- Regular messaging about milestones that have been achieved as the change initiative is being developed and implemented.
- Periodic communication about success stories about customers and employees, along with employee recognition.
- Embedding new processes and tools as standard operating procedures:
- Executives, Managers, and staff employ new processes and tools Post-Implementation in their daily operational roles and in the planning process.
- Use of performance metrics to monitor ongoing progress, for both Measured and Non-Measured Impact.
Focusing on these 4 activities ensures from the outset that important discussions will take place, and signals to the workforce the permanence of the transformation. It also allows leadership and management to identify the types of challenges that they may encounter with specific staff; and to determine how they will provide assistance and work with them.
Impact of The Human Element on Executives and Managers
It should also be pointed out that not only front line staff and Managers are impacted by the human element; executives are as well. It is important for the CEO to carefully assess each member of their team in terms of their level of commitment; and their ability and desire to support their direct reports and staff pre, during and post implementation. It is critically important for the CEO to determine if the Operational Executive (or Executives) who will be responsible for the success of the initiative and its results, is committed to its success, despite any issues that could arise down the road with any of their staff. If the Operational Executive is not in full support, this needs to be addressed prior to beginning any transformational change. There is no way around this issue as it can potentially derail the initiative.
With respect to Managers who will be involved with the initiative, the Operational Executive (which for certain transformational initiatives, may mean the involvement of several Executives over a period of time), needs to speak with each one and ask them to come back with their thoughts on any challenges they themselves anticipate in supporting the change. As well, they should be asked to provide an assessment of their staff, in terms of supporters or resistors; identify specific challenges that may emerge, and what their strategies will be to address them. As the initiative is developed, if a Manager is not prepared to support it, then the Operational Executive needs to remove them from their role, so their attitude does not impact others and metastasize to the wider organization.
Something interesting to note, which I have observed on more than one occasion. When the unfortunate situation arises where an Executive, Manager or front line staff is removed from their role due to lack of cooperation or belligerence, many employees will often privately acknowledge that the change was required.
When employees are engaged from the outset; understand the need for change; are provided with relevant information on an ongoing basis; know how the transformation will impact them in the short and longer term; and have confidence that their Managers and Executives will support them, most will put aside their apprehensions and work to support the transformation.
In the next blog, I will talk about the critical importance of having a governance framework in place, when beginning any major transformational change.
This article is based on my forthcoming book Rethinking Change Management; How To Implement Transformational Change For Long Term Success, which will be publishing later this year. If you find this article helpful, please share and subscribe to our blogs and newsletter. Stay tuned for further details.
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