How To Avoid Change Failure | Mind The Gap From Change Design To Execution
In this article, we discuss the challenges, traps and blind spots facing change and transformation leaders and map out the five things all change programmes need to do to avoid failure. Our advice is applicable to all change programmes irrespective of size and scale, namely:
- Change the composition of the change team at the execution stage.
- Assess the change members belief and passion for the change goals.
- Introduce new management practices.
- Recognise and reward the right behaviours.
- Be guided by the vision and ideals when making change adjustments.
Transitioning from the design to execution phase is fraught with risk. To start with, if you have created a comprehensive transformation strategy, it will include a strong and compelling vision, end state design, detailed plans and roadmaps and a solid project governance structure. You and your team will be feeling good and will probably have generated the essential momentum and demand for the next phase. However, if you have not achieved these design outcomes, then you do need to revisit the situation and invest in getting the set-up conditions re-configured and properly rooted.
The next stage requires two significant steps. First, successfully on-boarding colleagues beyond the core project team and second, driving actions and getting relevant things done. This is where a transformation programme gets a reality check. We outline below, five key recommendations that address the issues that arise, in moving beyond the transformation design phase.
- Change the composition of the Change Team. This may seem foolhardy, particularly if the design phase was a major success. This counter-intuitive approach reflects the fact that many of the skills and competencies required to design a change programme, are no longer required once you move into execution. In fact, one of the biggest risks is to continue to over invest in the analytical capability of the team and then expect that this team can and will deliver the change. Change at the implementation stage, is about investing in the emotional management of change. It quickly becomes about doing and not about thinking. Whilst it may appear easier or simply about getting lower level people involved, it is one of the most difficult aspects of change. Bringing on-board pragmatic doers, and key influencers from the mid-levels within the organisation, requires discipline and skill. It needs good listening skills and the ability to coach and mentor. The change leader needs to win the hearts and minds of the extended team and transfer the passion that the leadership team possess for the change programme objectives, to the wider team and employee groupings.
- Assess the change members belief and passion for the change goals. It is one thing to have the ability to design great change programmes, but what if the passion and commitment is not there for the implementation? Some team members are more comfortable planning and designing. Furthermore, they may see themselves as managers who do not have to rollup their sleeves and get stuck in. Keeping such team members engaged is a mistake. Transitioning into delivering requires the leaders and members of the change team to walk the walk. If they do not feel passionate about the programme goals, vision and destination for the change programme, they will not be able to bring along the wider team. Recognising this challenge and addressing it now, is important. Either the team needs to develop conviction for the programme or accept they need to move on. Most hired consultants don’t invest in the required passion, and therefore, most organisations simply don’t get this from their external partners. As organisations move from planning to execution, it will prove timely to replace resources and invest in injecting passion, conviction and belief into the team. We strongly advocate using diagnostic listening and Commitment-based Management as the basis for assessing and injecting passion into the team.
- Introduce new management practices. Once a change programme moves into the delivery phase, it requires a change to the project pattern and short-term rhythm and focus. There is a requirement to shift the programme into getting things done. The governance structures need to be reinvigorated. The types of meetings, their frequency, content and structure, need to reflect a focus on getting things done and short-term outcomes. Introduce high levels of personal accountability to deliver short-term action based results and track these actions through to completion. Focus meetings on exceptional reporting. Do not tolerate those who deflect energy and determination to achieve the programme objectives or who are not forthright in coming forward and declaring a lack of progress.
- Recognise and reward the right behaviours. Stay attuned with the progress of the programme and reward team members that get things done. Knowing what needs to be done, should be replaced by doing what needs to be done. Introduce real-time training and learning. Do not punish those that are trying but failing. These team members need to be managed carefully to see if they can become competent or, if not, they need to be sympathetically and carefully moved off the programme. By adopting this approach, change and transformation leaders will demonstrate they are ‘walking the walk’ and stand as exemplars for the behaviours of the change team.
- Be guided by the vision and ideals when making change adjustments. Implementing change requires hard work to change people’s mind-set and perceptions. There are winners, losers, resistor’s and advocates. Successful change implementation works through the impact on individuals. Individuals transition through several psychological stages when changing. Therefore, even well constructed plans can never predict with accuracy, the human aspect of change. The practical question remains, when is it okay to adjust the plan and revise the end destinations? There is no black and white answer, however, leaders should ask themselves, ’does such an adjustment undermine the overall vision or ideals that underpin the rationale for the programme?’ If the answer is yes, then the adjustments need to be re-examined and changed.
Submitted by Ian Duncan, SQT Strategic Change Management tutor