The word itself evokes feelings of being improved, uncomfortable, fearful, weary, and, in motion. From an organizational sense, change management is now a 30-year-old practice of shaking up a business or entity to refocus its mission, improve its operations, streamline its delivery systems, accelerate innovation, and better adhere to a marketplace moving at incredible speed. It’s supposed to result in something that is good for all its stakeholders – customers, suppliers, communities, and the like. But more often than not, Change management doesn’t deliver.
Worse. Even when a Change effort achieves part of its remit, it is not accomplishing the ultimate demand of the business – keeping it ahead of the curve. Ready to take on the next competitive challenge. Or customer expectation. Or technological shift. Or talent demand. In many cases, organizations are left limping to the future. One recent example is a global enterprise that after several change initiatives now finds itself in a place where its very existence is in question.
In a time when one’s ability to not only assimilate but accelerate forward is critical to sustained success, then Change must be “changed.”
So, let’s first examine why Change gets stuck and then identify the signs to avoid it going forward. To actually begin a process to shift a business, an entire infrastructure must be put in place. The adage, “organize before you strategize,” is indicative of a major change effort. Starting with a Project Management Office (PMO) overseeing the entire program right down to various task teams spread out to capture multiple areas of the enterprise. This architecture is surrounded by a vast array of data, information, deadlines, and communications to support it. In the end, it’s as if another organism attaches itself to the business ignoring what it does or why it exists. Again, the reason is to make move the business literally on the fly, so to speak, as people do their daily work. It’s this very rigor, though, that leaves Change behind the curve.
In this scenario, what actually happens is:
- Change often keeps people in their respective areas to capture better ways to execute something but limits future thinking– Instead of experiencing diverse perspectives and ways of doing things, employees only see what they do in their area, robbing the business of an ability to pivot or address new situations.
- Change doesn’t allow true data to be shared regardless of the all charts and projections – Despite all the data typically pulled together by management consultants to fuel the work streams and functional assessments, the important data – competition, customers, and employees – is often missing and with it the ability to think through key decisions based on predictive elements. In one large change initiative, employees were only provided data reflecting their functional area thus negating an ability to see the whole picture and limiting real ideation.
- Change doesn’t test people; it merely involves them – Placing people in teams to jointly work on reports and PowerPoints does not test judgement and decision-making ability, two key attributes to be analyzed and strengthened. As such, the company is not using Change to become more confident about addressing the future.
- Change doesn’t communicate what’s important; only what’s expedient – Time and again, communications can guide how employees view the future, if constructed properly: provocative, market and customer-oriented, authentic, interesting. Instead, Change efforts find communications just restating the logistical aspects of the effort.
Based on the above, we would recommend the following questions be addressed for your current Change initiative as a means to prevent failure in today’s unpredictable world:
- Who needs us to improve and why? – Note the difference. By asking “Who,” it forces us to determine exactly the forces behind the change and the need to explore further the reasons.
- Why do we do certain things? – Again, instead of asking “what do you do,” this calls for a more exploratory or self-examination of the type of work being conducted and the reason.
- What is happening around us? – From a communications standpoint, this is the most critical piece of information that can ensure Change is set-up to move people to the future as it provides context.
- Can we simulate what’s next? – Building in scenarios to Change allows people to experience and experiment with new protocols and the projection of the future is essential to keeping the business nimble.
As an employee, it is also important to lay out the scenario the Change effort is projecting by asking yourself:
- Will I still be in this job?
- What skills do I need to acquire? What skills no longer matter?
- Where can I acquire new skills?
- What don’t I know that’s critical to pursuing my career at this company?
- How am I sharing my ideas?
- Who do I know outside of my function?
- Who is the most important influence for you in making the shift ?
Now more than ever, organizations and leaders must work hard to keep their business future-oriented with regard to being thoughtful, agile, adaptive, resilient, and smart. Initiating Change programs to break through the technology and expectation gates to lean into the future vs. getting run over by it are both smart and necessary to bridge to the future— if they themselves don’t become an unintended barrier to long-term benefit.
A tight, strategic communications approach that encompasses key questions at the outset or during a Change effort can significantly alter or reinforce the company’s ability to rethink the entire experience.
Just as we view Change to be something that envelopes the whole organization, so too, must we recognize that only when all the elements – communications, engagement, system, behaviors, metrics – are in sync can there be an effective route to continuous improvement and excellence.