Justin M. Deonarine is an industrial/organizational psychologist with Psychometrics Canada, an Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO)-member company that provides assessment consulting services to help businesses hire the right individuals and develop teams and leaders. Justin is engaged in data-driven research to develop custom solutions that help individuals and organizations optimize performance. We asked him about the challenges around organizational change. Here's what he shared:

Adapt or perish

"It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory." -- W. Edwards Deming

Are you an entrepreneur who is reluctant to embrace change? Consider the following:

Why do some businesses survive while others fail? One argument is that successful companies--and their leaders--accept that change is inevitable, while others don't.

Successful organizations make it a priority to keep up with changes in the business environment, such as technological advancements. They tend to be less hierarchical about communication and see people as assets to invest in. They build a culture that empowers employees to be successful. And finally, their leaders set a clear vision for the direction of the organization.

However, even with a winning mix of organizational qualities, 70 percent of change initiatives fail. So, with the need to be prepared for change always looming overhead, how can leaders ready themselves to implement change initiatives?

Do people hate change?

"Change is not a four-letter word ... but often your reaction to it is!" -- Jeffrey Gitomer

The general consensus is that people hate change, but that's not entirely true. We enjoy changing things all the time: We go on vacations for a change of scenery, we renovate our homes and modify our fashion choices. However, these are all changes that we consciously decide to make. In other words, these are changes that we can control.

We don't like changes that are forced on us. In organizations, this creates a lag between the implementation of a change and the acceptance of it. In order to work through this lag, leaders must respond to the psychological factors around change:

  • Tangible factors: These include both organizational factors--strategy and organizational structure--and personal factors such as skill set and support from management.
  • Intangible factors: These include both organizational factors--culture and leadership--and personal factors such as commitment and values.

Your team can typically handle the tangibles fairly easily, which can be identified as a strength or a gap. However, the intangibles are built on self-awareness, other-awareness and communication, and are best handled when you "lead" change rather than "manage" change.

Communicating about change

"People are very open-minded about new things, as long as they're exactly like the old ones." -- Charles F. Kettering

When implementing change, there are definite challenges in communicating the purpose behind the change. Research suggests that 68 percent of senior managers understand the reasons behind major organizational decisions, but only 53 percent of middle managers and 40 percent of first-line supervisors say their management does a good job of explaining the reasons behind major decisions.

Why is this the case? It is entirely possible that leaders are not addressing all of the psychological factors involved in the acceptance of change. Many leaders can speak to the tangibles well but may mishandle or skip the intangibles. As a result, they are only addressing the readily apparent factors, but not those which are less obvious. This creates the difference between "managing" change and "leading" change.

Address all facets around a change

Given this challenge, you may ask, "How can I effectively communicate the need for change?" As a leader, it's a best practice to address the following:

  • The "Macro": What is it about the global situation that explains why the change must be made? Give the big picture, why the change is necessary, and include the overall plan.
  • The "Micro": What's not working and how do the proposed changes resolve that? Hone in on what specifically is broken, and how the changes will respond to that issue.
  • The "Hearts": What are the values driving the change? Clarify how the needs of employees will be addressed, and invite discussion about nuances that may have been overlooked.
  • The "Minds": What is the logic behind the change? Describe the alternatives you considered, outline the pros and cons, and invite critique of the approach.

5 Ways to lead successful change

"Change almost never fails because it's too early. It almost always fails because it's too late." -- Seth Godin

Let's revisit an earlier question: How can you, as a leader, ready yourself for leading change in your organization?

  1. Stop "managing" change. Set a consistent vision, engage with your employees, build a culture that supports employee success, and invest in individual and organizational development.
  2. Communicate comprehensively. Make sure that communication occurs in everyone's language: Macro, micro, hearts and minds.
  3. Repetition is key. Not everyone will hear you the first time. Even if you're sick of hearing your own message, there's likely someone who is hearing a part of it for the first time or is only now starting to process that part of the message.
  4. Accept some grumbling. Remember that having change forced on you isn't pleasant, so allow employees the freedom to complain. It's nothing personal; it's just their way of working through the process.
  5. Explain the "why." Employees will ask, "Why?". Be prepared to answer that question.