Previously I shared that for any transformation effort to be effective, you must first have an appreciation that all changed efforts start with understanding human nature (see “Managing Change Starts with Understanding Human Nature”); and, prior to undertaking any strategic change or transformation effort, organizations should undertake a Readiness Assessment to gauge if they are really ready for change (see “Is Your Organization Really Ready to Change?”).
As part of this assessment, four key questions must be asked, answered and addressed:
1. Do Leaders at every level have a common vision of the change to come?
For any change initiative to have even the slightest chance to succeed, leaders at every level of the organization need to be 100% clear and aligned on two critical factors:
- Is there a common understanding of the change to come from an organizational perspective?
- Is everyone clear on their role in leading the change, AND, the interdependencies’ and impact their individual role has to the overall success of the organization?
During any change or transformation effort there can only be ONE vision of what the future state will be! There is only room for one version of the truth, one message that gets communicated, and most importantly, one understanding of what success looks like. Too often in many organizations, senior leaders communicate one vision of the future, however, those beneath them take liberties to editorialize that vision with their own biases and the end message is confusing and convoluted to the rank and file.
Additionally, every leader at every level must be clear of the impact and interdependency their ability to execute has on the whole organization and the success of the change effort. When leaders lose sight of, or don’t understand these impacts, they can unwittingly contribute to what appears to be the success of their function or department, but at the expense of the success of the overall organization.
2. Will the organization’s culture support or resist the change?
Just as every country, social, and ethnic group has unique cultures, likewise, every industry, organization, and even departments within an organization can have its’ own unique culture. The key is determining in advance how “change adverse” or resistant is the culture? Is the culture one that suffers from W.A.D.I.T.W. (We’ve Always Done It This Way)? Or worse yet, suffer from a bad case of B.W.A.D. (this change may be good for other departments “But We Are Different”)?
To effectively drive change, before the first step is implemented, leaders must engage and understand the culture and how the change will be received.
3. What (and Who) do we anticipate will be the main resistors to change?
Knowing that by nature humans are change adverse, it should be assumed going in that there will be some resistance. The key is in anticipating “what” aspects of the transformation initiative will receive the most resistance, and, “who” are the key influencers within the organizations who might be the most focal resistors?
Every organization has certain “sacred cows,” those written or unwritten rules, processes, or expectations that people have come to enjoy. For decades IBM had a policy (unwritten if I recall) of “full employment.” The promise was, as long as you were a productive worker who added value, there would always be a role for you within the organization. You wouldn’t be downsized or laid off, as long as you performed.
However, in the early to mid 90’s under former CEO Lou Gerstner, IBM was forced to abandon this policy as market conditions and the competitive landscape changed. While ultimately successful in transforming IBM from a hardware/software manufacturer to a service provider, it was a shock to the culture when full employment came to an end.
4. How can we mitigate resistance to change?
In my experience, resistance to change can be mitigated by:
- Having a concise, compelling argument as to “Why” the organization must change to maintain it’s competitive edge, to drive growth or whatever the motivation is. Everyone must be crystal clear as to why, what will happen if we don’t, and the possible impact on the workforce if the status quo remains.
- Engaging workers from ALL levels of the organization in the planning process (this can include those key influencers who might not be supportive) to ensure input is received from top to bottom.
- Consider a phased or piloted implementation plan, allowing for mid-course corrections as new information is gained and unforeseen challenges are better understood.
- Communicate consistently and periodically on the status of the change initiative. In the absence of information, people will often make up their own reality of how things are going, which is almost always worse than reality.