There are plenty of resources on change management and oodles of "expert" consultants companies can hire. So why do so many organizations get it wrong? In a 2013 Strategy& and Katzenbach Center survey of global senior leaders on culture and change management, the success of major change initiatives was only 54%. This data is significant because failed change efforts can destroy morale, waste resources, increase turnover and crush the bottom line.

In today's more volatile, complex and unpredictable business environments, change management has to become part of the culture and business plan; not just something that leaders decide they need to adopt at some point when their business model is threatened or failing. The skills needed for leadership have also changed and more complex and adaptive thinking abilities are needed. But the change management methods being used have not changed much. Ironic isn't it? The reasons for embedding ongoing change management strategies are almost endless: the ever-changing economic environment, constantly emerging markets and technologies that level the playing field and allow for more competition, multi-generational workforces, ambiguity; the list goes on and on.

At the end of the day, an organization must anticipate change, have a culture that embraces it, be well-prepared and have discipline in execution and follow-through. Here are ten principles for successfully leading organizational change.

Building the Change Culture

Culture: The Single Most Important Enabler

Culture's reputation as being among the "softer" instruments of management might lead one to conclude that it is a luxury, something to be deprioritized as a foundation for achieving stellar business results. But in fact, culture is the single most important enabler for change management strategies when leveraged properly. The powerful elements of the culture must be used as fuel for change while the negative aspects should be minimized or improved.

Trust: Fueling the Change Engine

The foundation of any high-performance team ready to tackle change obstacles is trust. Without trust, all of the other elements that lead to success will eventually erode away completely. The same is true for a small business, publicly traded global corporation and everything in between. Studies actually show that productivity, income and profits are directly negatively or positively impacted depending on the levels of trust within an organization. A culture based on trust is essentially ready for anything. The seven pillars for building a high-trust culture are as follows: integrity in leadership, creating a winning vision, investing in respect, empowering everyone, embracing sacrifice, transparency in communication and accountability for all.

Accountability: Ownership at All Levels

As a Navy SEAL, you learn the discipline of accountability from day one. You hold yourself and your teammates to the highest expectations. The same thing applies to high-performance teams in any environment. Accountability matters as much as anything else people do on the job. It means that every single team member has made a personal commitment to meet or exceed the company's goals. A culture founded on accountability is more likely to thrive while faced with adaptive challenges because all team members will own a piece of the mission.

Preparing for the Change Battle

Mindset: Becoming the Change Evangelist

Changing or improving the culture of a company or team and preparing it for the change battle requires focus, accountability and consistency. And it must be led from the top. Without total and complete buy-in from all members of the senior leadership team, the desired culture will fail to be achieved and change initiatives will fizzle. There is also a misconception that leaders driving significant change must be bold in nature, give inspirational speeches and take wild leaps at greatness. That is simply not true. They must be honest and sincere in their effort exhibiting true passion for change.

Preparation: Gathering Data and Planning the Mission

When the leadership team has developed the proper change mindset they must move quickly into the preparation and planning phases. All mission plans had contingencies because we always anticipated that things would change, and "no plan survives first contact with the enemy." This applies equally to preparing an organization for inevitable if not constant periods of change. Once the leadership team has decided that significant transformations are needed, it's time to start gathering data from inside and outside of the organization. This data is crucial for developing the mission plan. All components of the missions plan must also allow for the culture engine to fuel the transformation.

Mission: Defining and Communicating the Intent

Once data has been gathered, feedback received and preparations made, the mission plan has to be assembled and communicated to the team. Communicating the mission intent must happen clearly, concisely and consistently from the start to the end of the process. Having gathered appropriate feedback from the frontline troops, buy-in will be more likely assuming that feedback was used to develop the plan. This is also the opportunity to reinforce the roles assigned to ensure you have team members who are accountable, responsible and informed on all parts of the mission plan.

Winning the Change Fight

Inclusion: The Power of Participation and Acceptance

One of the fundamental reasons change initiatives fail is due to a lack of inclusion from the front line troops both during the planning process and the transformation itself. In combat, the battlefield commander must receive constant SITREPS (situation reports) from his leaders at lowers levels in order to have the appropriate situational awareness and make good decisions. But it doesn't end there. Successful organizational change must involve all team members in some fashion. This gives them ownership and connects them to the cause.

Fatigue: Managing Fear and Staying Energized

Among the biggest obstacles to successful change are "change fatigue" and the lack of skill and resources needed to make major changes last. Change fatigue comes about when there are too many competing priorities and employees are asked to make too many changes all at once. Not to mention they still have their regular duties (on which their performance is judged) to execute. When change fatigue isn't managed and too many priorities are focused on at once, the mission plan will eventually slow or fall apart. Change fatigue can also start to fuel uncertainty amongst the team. With uncertainty comes fear and fear can quickly derail any plan. Managing fear starts at the top and should be owned by all managers. Panic is contagious, but so is maintaining a positive mental attitude. When employees see the leadership team exuding confidence despite a bit of chaos unfolding around them, they will be inspired to boldly follow and execute their duties.

Discipline: Focus and Follow-through

With a culture prepared for change, an accountable team that understand the plan and buys in to the mission priorities, the only remaining factor in successful change management is discipline. Transformation initiatives will be under the constant attack of competing priorities. Whether it's new business development opportunities, potentially lucrative partnerships and entering new markets, nothing should deprioritize the top change initiatives. Why? Because then the mission fails and the company will remain in a constant state of chasing its own tail. Like a dog chasing a squirrel who then quickly changes course to attempt to catch a bird. Chances are, he will catch neither.

Resiliency: The Path to Lasting Change

Old habits die hard. Many change initiatives can seem to initially "stick" but then somewhere along the way, backsliding occurs. A new way of thinking and behaving is required for change initiatives to really take hold. Once they do and the organization can maintain consistency in the mindset coupled with following new systems and processes, winning is likely to happen. That is why intertwining the culture and values with the new "way of doing things" is imperative.

Resilient organizations last long and navigate change better than anyone else. They are well prepared, disciplined, have accountable teams that embrace change, and a culture founded on trust and accountability.

Published on: Dec 16, 2016
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