Enabling change in an organization takes a lot more than having the chief executive officer announce an initiative, handing off the “project” to human resources (HR), and then expecting employees to get on board. Change management requires a sound strategy aligned to business goals, deployment of the right tools and resources, and a framework that ensures an organization can continually adapt to meet market and business conditions.
Unfortunately, most change initiatives are not successful. Consulting firm McKinsey & Company estimates that 70 percent of change programs “fail to achieve their goals, largely due to employee resistance and lack of management support.”
Both of these reasons for change failure can be traced directly back to poor leadership. Indeed, without proactive and ongoing leadership from the C-suite and enterprise line-of-business executives, change initiatives are likely to dissipate from lack of vision, energy and/or direction. The inevitable result is wasted money, lost business opportunities and disaffected employees.
So, what can enterprise decision makers do to be effective drivers of change? Here are several tips on how leaders can make change management work for their organizations.
Show strong and visible ownership
It’s very tempting for busy enterprise leaders, once they’ve green-lighted a change initiative, to outsource the program to HR or “change consultants.” This is a mistake for two reasons: (1) enterprise leaders can easily lose touch with the initiative, which often results in undesirable outcomes, and (2) employees won’t take the latest change initiative as seriously because none of the “important” people in the organization are championing it.
Perhaps first and foremost, enterprise leaders can demonstrate commitment to a change initiative by communicating both the reason for change and the way it is going to be accomplished. “Leaders who explained the purpose of the change and connected it to the organization’s values or explained the benefits created stronger buy-in and urgency for the change,” says the Center for Creative Leadership.
Communicating a change initiative isn’t a one-shot deal, however. Enterprise leaders should continually keep employees informed and focused on change programs, including purpose, progress and results.
Emphasize and facilitate collaboration
For change to take root in an organization, people must be willing to work together. This should start with enterprise leaders bringing employees into the change-planning phase, rather than presenting them with a program that lacks their input but disrupts their jobs. Such inclusiveness goes a long way toward gaining employee buy-in and creating a sound change implementation strategy.
Enterprise change initiatives also stand a much greater chance of success if they feature collaboration between employees and across business units.
“Every large-scale change requires both leadership at the top and the widening and deepening of connections through wooing — not coercing — an ecosystem of stakeholders,” business strategy book author Greg Satell writes in Harvard Business Review.
Provide support and resources
Launching and maintaining a change initiative typically involves some combination of new skills, tools, processes and job responsibilities. Enterprise leaders must provide employees and business units with the training and tools they need to do their part in driving change. Failure to adequately support change initiatives is one of the surest ways to doom them and alienate employees, some of whom will head for the doors, particularly in a strong job market.
The change process can be long, arduous and full of disappointments and setbacks. Enterprise leaders must demonstrate patience and commitment to their organizations’ change programs, advises business consultant Craig Nenke in DXC Technology’s Focus the Way Forward blog.
“Very few change success factors can be achieved immediately after launching the change or ‘go live,’ yet that is often the expectation due to the typical fixed-term ‘project’ method of implementing change,” Nenke writes.
More importantly, enterprise leaders must be committed — and demonstrate that commitment — to an ongoing change process that transcends specific and short-term performance goals. After all, change never stops — and neither should change management.