For most people, the basic fact that with change comes some degree of disruption is cause enough for resistance. Multiply this by the number of people within any given organization and it can be understood why so many change efforts fail. Nevertheless, without change, organizations suffer. They become irrelevant to their customer base, they lose their competitive advantages and at worst case they cease to be.
The following is our adaptation to John Kotter’s (Harvard Business Review contributor and author) seminal approach to change management. He identifies eight errors to avoid, which we find valuable in pursuing strategic, transitional change.
First error: Not Establishing Enough Urgency Before you try to push change, make your case for why it is vitally needed. It’s been cited that organizations need about 75% of management in alignment to be sufficient for transitional change to successfully make it past the initiation stage.
Second error: Not Creating a Powerful Guiding Coalition Creating a power mix of senior managers that have a shared assessment of their company’s problems and opportunities is critical. These key influencers are not necessarily in line with the existing hierarchy. If top managers and supervisors were working well there would not be need for major transformation.
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Third error: Lacking a Vision Not having a sensible vision will come back to haunt you, as transformation effort can easily dissolve into a list of confusing and incompatible projects. At worst this confusion can take the organization in the wrong direction and kill your change effort.
Fourth error: Under-communicating the Vision Credible and consistent communication is a process that should exercise varying mediums throughout the change initiative. Minimize the happy talk, but also celebrate key milestones. Whatever the reason for the message, reinforce the vision at every opportunity.
Fifth error: Not Removing Obstacles to the New Vision Renewal requires the removal of obstacles, whether imaginary or real. These could be a deficiency in the current organization structure or a people issue (i.e. leaders paying lip service to the change and halting progress accordingly). Tune in on where these are and address the cause.
Sixth error: Not Systematically Planning for and Creating Short-Term Wins Major change will take a long time, impacting levels of urgency and commitment. Managers need to look for ways to obtain and reward key performance improvements. Short-term wins must be unambiguous, not a judgment that can be discounted by those opposing change.
Seventh error: Declaring Victory Too Soon When clear signs of progress are declared as victory, the work might seem over when in reality it is not. This can draw criticism from detractors on the overall effort and the sub-par “end state.” Instead of declaring victory, leaders of successful efforts use smaller wins to tackle bigger, more systematic problems.
Eighth error: Not Anchoring Changes in the Corporation’s Culture Institutionalization must be consciously driven. Approaches, attitudes and behaviors must be reinforced. Succession planning must embrace this new state, one bad decision or promotion at the top tiers can undermine a decade of hard work.
As you can surmise, change is not a walk in the park, but if you venture out knowing the dangers inherent in these kinds of efforts, you may enjoy the benefits of the exercise.
Can you identify change that might be needed in your organization?