WHY CHANGE FAILS
What can go wrong in leading change.
By Ruth Tearle
A great deal of time, money and energy is spent on managing change, implementing strategy, organizational development and transformation. Consultants are hired, project teams are created, CEO’s go on ‘road shows’ to share their new vision, staff are trained, and yet, a few years later, few organizations can claim to have succeeeded in managing a change. So what makes change fail in an organization?
Ten reasons why change fails
Here are ten common reasons why change fails, and why company strategies don’t get successfully implemented.
Managing change is like preparing a team to run an ultra marathon. Over training results in a disappointing performance, burnout or injury.
- Change fatigue. Many employees are exhausted by the constant stream of changes they are expected to make. And while they are mastering the new change, they are also being held accountable for doing their ‘normal jobs’ and achieving operational results. Many employees cope with the additional pressure by simply doing nothing. They adopt an attitude of “this is just another management fad. If we wait long enough it will blow over.” Or “its only a matter of time before they change the structure again. Then we’ll get a new leader with a new way of doing things. Sit tight and nothing will change.” Or they try to do everything and burn out.
- Ineffective communication. Formal presentations about ‘the new strategy’, ‘the challenges facing our organization.’, or ‘the results of our detailed research’ usually fail to capture the imagination of the people inside the organization. Usually employees interpret the change as simply ‘more work and more stress for the same pay.’
- People simply don’t want the new strategy or change to be successful. When hearing about a new strategy or change, many people assess the implications the new strategy will have on their own positions. For example, the change may reduce their take home pay, undermine their
status, affect their power base, and increase the hours they are expected to work. Neither they nor their spouses will actively support a change that affects them in this way.
- The change is implemented in isolation. Often a seemingly simple change, will require other changes to be made to support it. E.g. the launch of a new company brand may require the introduction of new products, new marketing material, new services, and new ways of dealing with customers. This in turn would require the introduction of new supporting systems, structures, and cultural changes. A lack of systems thinking often prevents project teams from identifying all the related changes that need to be made to support their new strategy.
- Mixed messages and confusion. Many employees lower down the line get confused by a stream of contradictory messages. Their managers tell them to follow strict procedures. The new change requires them to do anything to delight their customer. They are rewarded for keeping to their budgets and cutting costs. They get confused and find their own way of determining ‘what really is important around here’.
- Lack of a single integrated change strategy. The lack of a single change strategy detailing what changes will happen when, results in the organization being bombarded by unnecessary changes. For examples lack of an integrated change strategy may result in staff attending 5 training courses where they could have attended one course which is designed to achieve 5 changes. Similarly the same system may be changed five times, rather than one integrated change being planned to achieve five benefits.
- A focus on knowing rather than doing. Many changes are presented in such a theoretical or complex way, that people feel that once they have understood what the change is about, the battle has been won. Few people in the organization can tell you in simple words ‘what they have to do to make the change work.’ When people cannot answer the simple question ‘who will do what by when?”, nothing gets achieved.
- Being put off by ‘resistance to change’. Many change leaders are surprised when they are confronted with ‘resistance to their change’. They believe that people are being destructive, negative or even disrespectful when they refuse to embrace the change wholeheartedly. The leader often reacts defensively or simply gives up when faced with too much resistance.
- Expectations of instant success. Many change leaders fail to realize that in change, things get worse before they get better. Standards do drop. Mistakes are made. Barriers arise. Problems occur. People do get stressed. Many change leaders forget to make allowances for the inevitable learning curves and difficulties that will arise, in their change schedules.
- Change management has a negative image. Because change has often been implemented poorly in the past, many people associate change with stress, blaming, extra work, and problems – rather than as a source of growth, purpose and excitement.
“A coach’s role is to develop an effective change strategy for their team. One that allows the team to peak at the right time and balances performance, self confidence and love of the game.”
Ten steps to manage change in an organization
Here are 10 practical steps you can follow to successfully implement a strategy, or manage a change within your own organization.
- Develop a clear vision of your change having been successfully implemented.
- Understand what the stakeholders of your change expect from the change. Develop a strategy for communicating your vision to your stakeholders, in a way that spells out the benefits of the change to each stakeholder. Get them excited about what the change can do for them.
- Remove the obvious barriers to change. Ask each stakeholder "What could prevent our change from working, and how do we deal with that?"
- Understand how your change is going to impact on the organization as a system. Use systems thinking to identify related changes that need to be made to support your change. Also identify other changes that are being made within the organization. and how these changes will impact on your change.
- Develop a single integrated change strategyshowing what will be done, when and by whom.
- Identify the change tools and interventions you will use as you implement your change strategy.
- Identify the people barriers to change. Develop strategies to overcome these barriers.
- Understand the psychological phases people experience when changing a habit. For example, refusal to accept the need for change, resistance to change, confusion, and mastering the change. Develop strategies for dealing with each psychological phase.
- Anticipate and deal with hidden agendas and ‘difficult people’.
- Use energy, rewards, beliefs, and values to inject magic into the change journey, and make the process fun, exciting and developmental.
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