Jean-Jacques Rousseau said, “There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”
Events, circumstances and forces beyond our control can impose change (and we’ve experienced a great deal of that these past few years), but what about the change programs you initiate? How successful are you at leading change?
How often have you seen efforts to create change stall? Ever been part of a team or an organization that attempted something really different and failed. We’ve all seen attempts at change bomb. What are the causes?
I spoken for and worked with over 3,000 organizations in my career. I’ve observed the successes and failures, and paid attention to what caused each. The following are some of the most common reasons I’ve identified why organizational change fails. You can use the list for diagnostic purposes, or to prevent mistakes in future attempts at change.
A mis-start occurs when a change is ill-advised, hastily implemented or attempted without sufficient commitment. This is a leadership credibility killer. It is often caused by a good idea that gains too much enthusiasm and too little examination. Change takes much organization effort, so be prudent in what you attempt.
2. Making change an option
When leadership commits to a change, the message must be that the change is not an option. Unfortunately the message that often comes across is “We’d really like you to change…” as if staying the same were an option. Whenever people have the option not to change, they usually won’t.
You need to make a compelling case for change and give people solid reasons for it. Don’t allow commitment on the part of your team to be choice. If you’ve done your homework–and especially if you’ve considered your teams opinions and suggestions about the change–then moving forward is requirement for everyone.
3. A focus only on process
Leaders can get so caught up on planning and managing the process that they don’t notice that no tangible results are being achieved. Leaders become more fixated on the process (which creates rigidity and prevents adjustments) than the results it was designed to create.
The process needs milestones and measurable outcomes. If original plans aren’t working, consider a revision, not of the change itself, but of the way you’ll achieve it.
4. A focus only on results
This stems from a belief that the end justifies any means. Organizations tend to fail miserably in this regard: they downplay or ignore the human cost of change. It is this insensitivity to people’s feelings that not only prevents the change but destroys morale and loyalty in the process.
You can incur too much pain to make a change worthwhile, especially if it creates futility and despondency among employees or customers. Both need to believe the change is necessary and achievable. Pay attention not only to what people do but how they feel about the process.
5. Not involving those expected to implement the change (see #2)
A great deal of resentment is aroused when management announces a change and then mandates the specifics of implementation without input from those doing the work. Employees need to be involved in two ways. First, their input and suggestions should be solicited when planning the change. Secondly, after a change has been determined, they should be involved in determining the means. Leadership needs to communicate, “Here’s what must happen. How do you think it can best be done?”
6. Delegated to “outsiders”
Change is an inside job. Although outsiders like consultants might provide valuable ideas and input, people inside the systems must accept responsibility for the change. Scapegoating and passing the buck is not an option, and often a reason outsiders are called in.
It can be tempting to try to “buy” yourself a change, but it doesn’t usually work.
7. No change in reward system
If you keep rewarding employees for what they’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always gotten. Make sure that rewards, recognition and compensation are adjusted for the desired change. And give special recognition to early adapters who help lead the change.
8. Leadership doesn’t walk the talk
For change to happen, everyone must walk the talk but leaders must take the first steps. Change is aborted whenever leadership doesn’t demonstrate the same commitment they expect from others.
Grumbling behind the scenes and off-line comments that are negative easily undermine your attempt. People should be free to share ideas and opinions, but grumbling about a commitment that has been makes it sound like a false commitment.
9. Too little or too much
In this instance, the change is too massive to be achievable or too small to be significant. Like a good goal, a change program should be neither too easy nor too impossible.
There is no algorithm to guide you here. A realistic assessment of your team’s capacity and the time and money need for success is essential.
10. No follow-through
The best planning is worthless if not implemented, monitored and carried out. Responsibility must be clearly defined for making sure that follow-through is timely and intense. It is far easier to make plans than take action.
Few skills are more important to effective leadership than the ability to change personally and the ability to lead others to change. When it comes to organizational change, beware these ten failure points.
Mark Sanborn is an award winning speaker and Leadership Expert in Residence at High Point University, the Premier Life Skills University. For more information about his work, visit www.marksanborn.com.