Why so many organisations are so bad at change and what it takes to get in control.

In Managing change successfully (March-April 2008), sponsored by Celerant Consulting a number of interesting findings suggested that at the top of the agenda for business leaders over the next two years will be organizational flexibility for operational efficiency.

Interestingly the report also demonstrated that the success rate of change initiatives amongst 607 firms polled was as low as 50%.
The blame for failed change projects

51% put the failures down to “winning hearts and minds” followed by 31% citing “Lack of clearly defined achievable milestones” and then “lack of management buy-in ” and  “poor communication”.

These responses don’t describe a failed change management programme, they describe non existence of a change programme, i.e. little more than a wish.

Why do organisations struggle to change?

Well this is the subject of many books, so this blog is not going to attempt to discuss it in depth, but the key concepts to consider are that:

(1) when you put any group of people together in a team of any size, there will be power struggles, certain individuals will dominate and the rest will follow. This soon becomes a comfortable arrangement whereby individuals find ways to meet their needs from the team.

(2) When you move the goal posts in an organisation, you are effectively melting the glue and throwing all the pieces back onto a pile.  Hence the cries of pain. “How will I demonstrate my value to the team if  I don’t know what is required of me?” “How will I build a new power base”, “maybe there will no longer be any need for my skills”, “nobody really values me now, they just don’t realise that I’m dispensable”.
This is senior managers crying out, so you can imagine how the lower levels are feeling.

Operations is rarely a big challenge, people on shop floors, in trucks, or wherever are usually happy enough to absorb change as long as they are treated well, equipped for the work and valued. Their unions may negotiate for concessions, but ultimately they are not the problem.

How could this be different.

Well once again there is a temptation to write a book, but there are plenty of those out there already,  what is needed is good old fashioned common sense and a bit of leadership.

If an organisation is to be steerable then there has to be an efficient communication of direction form the brain to the legs and an appropriate response from the legs. Not a hugely complex concept.
As we all know, intelligent people in a modern workplace can’t be coerced into anything successfully. At best they will pretend to comply and hang on indefinitely, undermining things at every opportunity. The alternative is to provide direction and leadership:

1.       Communicate a clear direction loudly, clearly and honestly until it is understood at not just a strategic level, but one whereby individuals can begin to see at a micro level how they can, or can not fit into this new team.

2.       Facilitate and orchestrate the team forming and norming instead of waiting for months, or years until the squabbling is over.

3.       Develop real value propositions for your key people based on their needs. If you are in doubt or want to get a head start in understanding their needs you can begin with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and make sure that what you are offering them gives them an equivalent, or better level to what they have now and a motivator to get them going.
In simple terms their needs can be described as;
The need to survive( not usually an issue),
The need for shelter (rarely an issue),
The need to interact socially ( this can be important),
The need for personal development (now we are at the centre of it),
The need to progress towards your life ambition.
These last three are the battle ground on which all the squabbles are fought and with a little planning and intelligent management action, much of it can be channeled into positive energy.

4.       If you can align your business goals to the individual goals of your key people, then you have a win/win scenario that is sheer magic.

5.       Now that you have created a healthy positive culture, have your key managers cascade this down all the way to the bottom layer.

Who should do it?

The people with the skills to plan and execute this are senior HR managers and Change managers, but the person who must unquestionably own this whole process and be seen to own and believe in it passionately is the Chief Executive. It doesn’t necessary call for a lot of his time, but for quality time.

Ed Taaffe

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