There are hundreds if not thousands of books about change management. There are courses managers can take an oodles of "expert" consultants companies can higher. So why do so many organizations get it wrong. In a 2013 Strategy&/Katzenbach Center survey of global senior leaders on culture and change management, the success of major change initiatives was only 54%. That is a big problem because failed change efforts can destroy morale, waste resources, increase turnover and crush the bottom line.
In today's more volatile and unpredictable business environment, 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. I have led my companies through significant transformations and made many of these mistakes. Don't do the same thing.
Here are six reasons change management strategies fail.
The Need Isn't Foreseen. As a former Navy SEAL, I can assure you that one of a leader's most important competencies is to foresee and prepare for change well before it is needed. The Navy SEAL "business model" is built upon this philosophy. One could argue that organizations would benefit more if they found ways to integrate change management strategies into their ongoing business plan.
Then of course, proper training, experiences and systems would need to be put in place to ensure that change acceptance becomes adopted as part of the culture.
There is no strategy. I used the title of this article to tee this one up. Change must occur at an appropriate pace. Not too fast and not too slow. Analysis paralysis can render change initiatives impotent. But as we say in the SEAL Teams, "Don't run to your death." The leadership team has to spend enough time putting a proper plan in place while ensuring the team is well-equipped and well-prepared for the needed change.
As I have mentioned before, I have made some of these mistakes myself. Ok, fine. All of them. But that's how we learn right? When leading one of my companies through a major transformation over the course of two years (it was supposed to take one year) there we certainly some holes in the strategic approach. The leaders must spend enough time developing a plan with solid contingencies before striking out on the battlefield.
Lack of Alignment. During the planning phase, senior leaders need to do several things. One is to collect data from their front line soldiers in order to have the best possible data at their disposal. This accomplishes two things. It gives the senor leaders the best possible situational awareness. What should we stop doing? What should we keep doing? What should we start doing? This process also gives the team a sense of ownership and allows crucial participation leading ultimately to buy-in.
Once the data is collected and the plan put in place, the leaders need to ask themselves one simple question. Are we all aligned on this plan and can we all articulate what the outcome will look like? No but really...are we all actually aligned? It's never going to be perfect and people will have different opinions on how to get from point A to point B, but overall alignment that the change is needed and that it is a priority must be clear.
Not Led from the Top. Now the data has been collected, the leadership team has a plan and they are all aligned. Now we just bring in a consultant or pass the plan to HR and watch the magic happen right? Noooo. I've tried both and not surprisingly neither worked. The leadership team must be involved and evangelize the change the entire way through.
All of the senior leaders must stay involved. If the team senses that one or more of the leadership team at any level is losing interest, deprioritizing initiatives or just not involved, the mission suffers. During major change initiatives there will be constant temptation to shift priorities to chasing new opportunities, up-selling clients and bringing on new talent. Just be careful that these things don't derail the plan.
Doesn't Involve all Layers. The only way to gain total buy-in is to get feedback, have a solid plan, remain consistent, and involve all layers of the organization. The most successful change management strategies are driven by everyone in the company. All have a role and play a part.
Controls must be decentralized and team members empowered. Usually, when companies "decide" they need to make major changes, their front line workers and those in the trenches have been begging for it for a long time. But nobody was listening. When everyone is involved they will feel connected to the cause. Rewards and recognition to follow!
Culture is Left in Shambles. And last but actually most importantly, culture must be the foundation. Culture can play two powerful roles during organizational transformations. Either the leadership team identifies core parts of the culture and tie that in to the change initiatives, or they decide that the culture must first change before the business model can. Neither of these approaches is necessarily easy.
If the culture is broken or simply not well-defined, the plans must start there. Often times, major change within companies require and entire restructuring and re-branding effort from the inside out. If culture is not a priority or seen as "soft" and something that will just automatically adjust, then there will be big problems ahead.
Change is never easy but always inevitable. Just like Navy SEALs do, expect change to occur, prepare the team and plan accordingly.